Greece fires: Thousands more flee to safety as wildfires continue to rage

People watch the wildfire next to a highway in Afidnes area, northern Athens Credit: AP

Thousands of residents have fled to safety from a wildfire that burned for a fourth day north of Athens as firefighters tried to stop the flames reaching populated areas, power stations and historic sites.

On the nearby island of Evia, the coast guard mounted a massive operation with patrol boats and private vessels to evacuate hundreds of people by sea.

With a protracted heatwave scorching the country, the blaze tore through forest areas 12.5 miles north of the capital, destroying more homes.

A burnt hotel during a wildfire in Lalas village, near Olympia town Credit:

Ground crews of several hundred firefighters dug fire breaks and hosed the flames.

Traffic was halted on the country’s main road connecting Athens to northern Greece, as crews tried to use the route as a barrier to stop the flames advancing before water-dropping planes resumed flights at first light.

But sparks and burning pine cones carried the fire across the highway at several points.

Several firefighters and volunteers were taken to hospital with burns, health officials said.

Fire Service chief Aristotelis Papadopoulos said: “We are going through the 10th day of a major heatwave affecting our entire country, the worst heatwave in terms of intensity and duration of the last 30 years.”

ITV News Correspondent Ben Chapman reports from the devastated Greek island of Evia

Nearly 60 villages and settlements were evacuated on Thursday and early Friday across southern Greece, with weather conditions expected to worsen as strong winds were predicted in much of the country.

Fires were raging on the island of Evia, north-east of Athens, and at multiple locations in the southern Peloponnese region where a blaze was stopped before reaching monuments at Olympia, birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games.

A summer palace outside Athens once used by the former Greek royal family was also spared.

In Evia, the coast guard said its patrol boats, private vessels and tourist boats had evacuated 631 people overnight, and by early Friday morning from beaches on the north-eastern coast of the island.

Fire crews, water-dropping planes, helicopters and vehicles from France, Romania, Sweden and Switzerland were due to arrive on Friday and through the weekend.

An aircraft drops water during a wildfire in Kryoneri Credit: AP

Fire crews and planes from Cyprus were already in Greece, as the European Union stepped up support to fire-hit countries in south-east Europe.

The heat wave also has fuelled deadly fires in Turkey and across the region.

In a televised address, Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said: “Our priority is always the protection of human life, followed by the protection of property, the natural environment and critical infrastructure.

“Unfortunately, under these circumstances, achieving all these aims at the same time is simply impossible.”

The wildfires, he said, display “the reality of climate change”.

More than 1,000 firefighters, joined by the army and teams of volunteers, as well as nearly 20 water-dropping planes and helicopters were fighting five major fires across the country, the fire department said.