The fire that broke out on Monday in the area of Villia, west of Athens, is still raging on Tuesday despite the overnight efforts of hundreds of firefighters to contain the blaze.
Five more communities – Thea, Panorama, Palaiohori, Paliokoundoura and Aghia Sotira – were evacuated as well as the Panaghia Faneromeni nursing home, as the flames that spread across a large front approached residential areas, burning dense and inaccessible virgin pine forest on Mount Patera.
With the first light of day, six helicopters and five aircraft, including the gigantic Russian Beriev-200, began their operations to aid the efforts of around 330 firefighters on the ground.
In addition, the Greek Army is assisting by dispatching five groups of infantry units to the area. Assistance is also being provided by many volunteer firefighters, with help from construction equipment from the Greek Army as well as water tankers from the region and the local government.
The fire southeast of Athens, near the towns of Lavrio and Keratea, is largely contained now. The blaze destroyed houses in the Markati area.
On Tuesday morning there are scattered active fires where 104 firefighters are operating including three groups on foot, 40 vehicles and two helicopters.
Fire at Villia investigated for arson
Both fires in Villia and Keratea are being investigated on suspicion of arson, Citizen Protection Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis said, adding that on Monday there were 45 new fires that broke out.
“We call on you for collaboration and appeal to the public to follow the directions of authorities,” he said.
Because of an increased danger of fire in much of Greece forecast on Tuesday, all firefighter divisions and services remain on alert, while air patrolling and mixed ground patrols by the Fire Brigade, the Greek police and the Army are ongoing.
Greece has been roiled by hundreds of wildfires this month, on the heels of its most severe heat wave in decades, which left its forests tinder dry. Other Mediterranean countries – Turkey, Italy, Algeria and Spain among them – have suffered similar problems.
Two major fires in Greece that began in early August, one on the island of Evia and another in a national park north of Athens, were still smoldering Monday, and firefighters were trying to secure their perimeters. On Evia, water-bombing planes were deployed again Monday to assist ground forces.
Scientists say there is little doubt that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving more extreme weather events.
On Monday, Greece’s civil protection chief, Nikos Hardalias, who coordinates the fight against wildfires as well as the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, was taken to an Athens hospital where he underwent unscheduled heart surgery. A health ministry statement said the operation was successful.