Athenians told to stay inside as wildfires cloud city skies

A firefighter sprays water in an attempt to help fight a wildfire at Varympompi suburb north of Athens, Greece

Greek authorities told people in Athens to stay indoors on Wednesday as a wildfire raging uncontrolled north of the city covered the sky in a thick cloud of smoke.

More than 500 firefighters battled the blaze on the lower slopes of Mount Parnitha, on the city outskirts, assisted by nine helicopters, five aircraft, policy and the army in a densely vegetated area in the region of Acharnes.

“The fire is still raging, its perimeter is very wide and the heat load is very strong,” a fire brigade official said.

Despite sweltering heat and stifling conditions, the national observatory advised people in the city to keep windows shut and to reduce movement outside because of the harmful particles in the sky.

Temperatures have been over 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) but Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias said the situation on Wednesday appeared somewhat better, helped by lower winds and humidity. One front was burning strongly but another three were abating and no casualties were reported.

The blaze broke out on Tuesday in the town of Varympompi some 20 km north of central Athens. In scorching temperatures, it spread to nearby towns burning homes and cars and forcing residents to flee.

“Thank God we haven’t had any loss of human life so far,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said after an inspection visit early on Wednsday.

Power grid operator IPTO was trying to restore power in parts of the metropolitan region after the fire damaged parts of the grid.

Europe is grappling with a summer of extreme weather, from heavy flooding in the north to the severe heatwaves and fires that have engulfed several areas in the Mediterranean with Greece’s neighbour Turkey battling fires for the past week.

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