The flames swept through a city near Athens overnight and hundreds of people were evacuated by ferry from the island of Evia as forest fires raged across Greece for the fifth day on Saturday.
In Evia, east of the capital, a fire that started on Tuesday quickly flourished on several fronts, devastating thousands of hectares (acres) of virgin forest in the northern part of the island and forcing the evacuation of dozens of villages.
More than 400 wildfires broke out in the past 24 hours, with the largest fronts still burning on Evia, the second-largest Greek island, and areas in the Peloponnese, including Ancient Olympia, the site of the first Olympics.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called it a “nightmare summer”, adding that the government’s priority “has been, first and foremost, protecting human lives.”
The fire on Mount Parnitha outside Athens, which forced the evacuation of thousands of people since Thursday night, had receded on Saturday afternoon, but the winds were forecast to intensify, which meant that still there was a great threat that they would explode again.
“Under no circumstances can we be complacent,” said Deputy Minister of Civil Protection Nikos Hardalias during an emergency briefing. “We are fighting a very big battle.”
Wildfires have erupted in many parts of the country amid Greece’s worst heat wave in more than 30 years, razing swaths of forests, destroying homes and businesses and killing animals.
On Friday night, strong winds drove the fire into the city of Thrakomakedones north of Athens, where houses were burned. The residents were ordered to evacuate and there were no immediate reports of casualties.
The fire left homes and cars burned and blackened among burned pine trees. A cloud of smoke hung over the capital.
“(It’s) really bad,” said Thanasis Kaloudis, a Thrakomakedones resident. “All of Greece has been burned.”
Neighboring Turkey is also fighting what President Tayyip Erdogan says are the worst forest fires in its history and five fires were still burning there on Saturday.
That number was slightly lower than in recent days. In the Mediterranean town of Manavgat, where the first fires broke out 10 days ago, rains helped firefighters put out the last flames.
Further west, in the Aegean province of Mugla, four fires still burned as a sustained dry heat wave continued, while another blaze burned inland in Isparta.
Eight people have died in fires that have devastated the coastal regions of southwestern Turkey, burning tens of thousands of hectares and forcing thousands of residents and tourists from their homes and hotels.
Greece has received reinforcements from Cyprus, France and Israel to fight the fire near Athens, assisted by the army and water bombers. Germany will send 216 firefighters and 44 vehicles expected to arrive in three to four days, the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance tweeted on Saturday.
Hundreds of people, including many elderly residents, were evacuated by ferry late on Friday from the town of Limni when the sky turned apocalyptic red.
A man died in Athens on Friday after being injured by a power tower and at least nine others were injured, authorities said.
The government plans to reimburse people affected by the fires and would designate the burned lands as reforestation areas, Mitsotakis said.
Residents of the northern suburbs of Athens have been forced to rush away with what few belongings they can take with them.
“Our business, our house, our entire property is there. I hope they don’t burn,” Yorgos Papaioannou, 26, said Friday, sitting in a parking lot with his girlfriend as ash fell around them from the smoke. Darling.
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