ATHENS: Thousands of tourists and residents were evacuated and a thick cloud of smoke and ash hung over Athens Saturday as forests fires that have already killed two people raged for an 11th day in parts of Greece.
At least 1,450 Greek firefighters were battling the infernos along with 15 aircraft, with reinforcements arriving from other countries, the fire service said. The blazes are set to continue with strong winds and temperatures of up to 38 degrees C (100 F) forecast in some regions on Saturday.
Greece and Turkey have been fighting devastating fires for more than a week as the region suffers its worst heatwave in decades -- officials and experts linking such intense weather events to climate change. A UN draft report seen by AFP labelled the Mediterranean region a "climate change hotspot" and warned that heatwaves, droughts and fires would become more fierce in the future, supercharged by rising temperatures.
The Greek fire service said Saturday blazes were raging in the Attica peninsula that includes Athens, in Evia, the country's second largest island and located east of the capital, and the Peloponnese region in the southwest.
One of two people killed in Greece was named as Konstantinos Michalos, the president of the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He was found unconscious in a factory in Krioneri and was later confirmed dead in hospital.
On Friday, a 38-year-old man from Ippokrateio, a town north of Athens that has been ravaged by the flames, died in hospital after being hit by a falling electric pole as he was riding a moped. In Turkey, eight people have been killed and dozens more hospitalized during 10 days of fire.
North of Athens, a fierce blaze tore through vast areas of pine forest, forcing yet more evacuations of villages overnight and blowing thick, choking smoke and ash all over the Greek capital. Part of a motorway linking Athens to the north of the country has been shut down as a precaution and migrant camps were evacuated. In the Evia village of Limni, more than 1,300 people fled the fires on ferry boats. Another 23 were evacuated Saturday morning from the beach at Rovies. Local authorities on the island called for more air support in the firefighting efforts.
Around 5,000 tourists and residents were also forced to flee another fire in the Peloponnese region.
Eleni Drakoulakou, the mayor of of East Mani, told ERT TV on Saturday that 50 percent of the Peloponnese town has been burnt, blaming a lack of water-dropping air support during the critical first hours of the wildfire. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Saturday pledged the swift restoration of the affected areas. "The burnt areas will be marked out for reforestation,"he told reporters. "When this nightmarish summer ends we will reverse the damage as soon as possible".
The ANA news agency said two people were held on suspicion of arson. In Athens, police arrested a woman in a park on Friday as she was carrying two lighters, petrol and flammable materials, a few minutes after a fire broke out there.
Authorities have banned visits to parks and forests through Greece, according to ANA. Meanwhile, a 43-year-old man was arrested in the area of Krioneri near Athens and charged with arson, according to ANA. –AFP