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Wildfires tear through towns in Greece as thousands flee seaside resorts

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Two large wildfires have torn through coastal towns in Greece, as the country prepares for a second heatwave.

Fanned by strong winds, the wildfires have so far raged uncontrolled through two towns near Athens, damaging homes and forcing thousands of people to flee.

Hundreds of children have been evacuated from a summer camp, located around 50 miles (80km) west of the Greek capital Athens.

Footage shows the wildfires burning and smoke billowing in the air as firefighters work alongside local residents to battle back the flames.

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Evacuation orders have been issued for at least six seaside communities as the wildfires edged closer to summer resort towns and gusts of wind hit 45mph (70kph).

One of the fires is reported to have started near the village of Kouvaras, about 17 miles (27km) southeast of Athens.

At least five houses are believed to have been severely damaged by the fire, which also tore through the seaside residential area of Lagonisi, a popular summer resort.

Flames engulf a house as a wildfire burns in Saronida, near Athens, Greece, July 17, 2023. REUTERS/Stelios Misinas
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Flames engulf a house in Saronida near Athens


Firefighters try to extinguish a wildfire burning in Saronida, near Athens, Greece, July 17, 2023. REUTERS/Stelios Misinas TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Firefighters try to extinguish a wildfire burning in Saronida

Police have helped evacuate more than 100 citizens in the wider area, with the towns of Kalyvia and Anavyssos also impacted.

Around 200 firefighters, assisted by aircraft, helicopters and soldiers from the Greek army, have been involved in battling the blaze.

“Due to high winds, the blaze spread across 12km (7.5 miles) in two hours,” Greek fire service spokesman Ioannis Artopoios told a televised briefing.

“Tuesday will also be a very difficult day. There is a very high risk for fires.”

He added that police had detained a person on suspicion of arson.

Around 1,200 children in a summer camp and the residents of a rehabilitation centre have been evacuated due to another wildfire burning close to the seaside resort of Loutraki, located west of Athens and near to the ancient city of Corinth.

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Fire and smoke spread on the hills at the Corinth Canal, Greece, July 17, 2023 in this still image from video obtained from social media. Iymane Rhimi/via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
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Fire and smoke spread on the hills at the Corinth Canal

Wildfires are common in Greece in summer – but they can still be deadly. A wildfire killed 101 people in the seaside town of Mati, east of Athens, in 2018.

There is concern among officials this year, because a dry winter has created tinderbox conditions in Greece.

The country is also in the midst of two intense heatwaves, with the second one this week expected to bring extreme heat to Greece and other parts of Southern Europe.

Meteorologists are warning temperatures will hit new record highs in countries such as Spain and Italy this week.

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Map shows heatwave across Europe this week

The heatwave is forecast to intensify in the next two days and could last into August, the World Meteorological Organisation has said.

A new anticyclone, named Charon, after the Greek mythological boatman who ferries souls to the underworld, is behind the heatwave.

From Thursday, the second heatwave will be felt in most areas of the country, with minimum temperatures reaching up to 43C (109F) on the mainland, 41C (106F) on the Ionian islands and 38C (100F) on the Aegean islands.

The Greek meteorological service has warned of a high risk of fire this week.

Greece’s recently re-elected Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, on a trip for a leaders’ summit in Brussels, said he was being briefed over the fires, which he attributed in part to climate change.

“Today was the first really tough day of this summer,” he said.

“It is certain that more will follow. We’ve had, we have and will have fires, which is also one of the results of the climate crisis that we experience with increased intensity.”

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