A wildfire swept uncontrolled through forests northwest of Athens for a second day on Tuesday, forcing more residents to flee their homes and Greece’s prime minister to urgently return home from a summit in Brussels.
The fire front extended for more than 8 km (5 miles), officials said.
“We are living a nightmare,” Christos Stathis, mayor of the town of Mandra, told Open TV. “Houses and properties are on fire.”
A cloud of white smoke rose above Mandra after an explosion was heard, according to a Reuters witness. Mandra was hit by flash floods in 2017.
The blaze, which broke out on Monday in the region of Dervenochoria, about 30 km north of Athens, spread fast as it was fanned by erratic winds and reached Mandra, west of the capital, on Tuesday, forcing people to flee and burning houses.
Greece’s recently re-elected Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis cut short his trip to Brussels, where he had been attending an EU-Latin America summit, earlier on Tuesday.
More than 250 firefighters assisted by 75 fire engines, 11 aircraft and nine helicopters battled the fire.
Firefighters managed to contain other blazes southeast and west of the Greek capital, but the fronts were still active and were easily rekindled by strong winds.
The vice governor of Corinth region, west of the capital, said that at least 30 houses were severely damaged by the fire on Monday in the town of Loutraki.
Another fire was tamed on Tuesday, having first broken out on Monday in the village of Kouvaras, about 27 km southeast of the Greek capital. That fire had quickly spread to the coastal towns of Anavyssos, Lagonisi and Saronida.
A local mayor told Greek television that more than 7,000 acres of land was reduced to ashes along the coast, where many Athenians have holiday homes.
Four Canadair water bombers from Italy and France were expected to land at the Elefsina military airport later on Tuesday, Civil Protection Ministry said in a statement.
The Greek meteorological service has warned of a high risk of fire this week, just as the country is recovering from the first major heatwave of the summer. A second heatwave was forecast for later this week.
Greece still has memories of a wildfire disaster in 2018, when a blaze killed 101 people in the seaside town of Mati, east of Athens.