ATHENS – Greece's worst heatwave in decades – during the COVID-19 pandemic – sparked some 81 fires across the country, including a devastating blaze in a northern Athens suburb that blanketed the city with so heavy smoke that residents were warned not to go outside.
Unlike the deadly July 23, 2018 wildfires northeast of Athens that killed 102 people, and was largely blamed on the then-ruling Radical Left SYRIZA's shambolic response, no deaths were reported so far.
The New Democracy government scrambled the entire arsenal of firefighting equipment, including planes and helicopters that weren't deployed three years earlier, with more than 500 firefighters now on the ground battling the blaze in Varibobi on Athens' northern tip.
The fire spread so fast, despite the response, that houses were burned and winds propelled the flames through other settlements in the area, said Kathimerini, including Thrakomakeones, Adames and the Olympic Village.
Within hours it reached the outskirts of Kryoneri and there was worry it would reach the former Royal Family summer residence of Tatoi as more crews scrambled to contain it, and fires that were out of control on the island of Evia.
Five water-dumping aircraft and nine helicopters were deployed at morning while the army, the police, municipal workers and dozens of volunteers have also been mobilized.
“The destruction is incalculable,” Acharnes Mayor Spyros Vrettos, told Skai TV, sp speaking of the municipal area to which Varibobi belongs, which is home to hundreds of holiday residences, a children's summer camp, riding centers, tavernas and cafes.
“There's cinders and ash everywhere, it's terrible. Dozens of hectares of pine forest have been razed, dozens of houses have been completely destroyed,” he added, with an inventory of damage to begin when the fire is out.
On Evia, Greece's second-biggest island, northeast of the capital, the wildfire destroyed more than 2,000 hectares (4942 acres) of land containing forests, houses, warehouses, manufacturing plans and tourism accommodation, the regional governor of Central Greece said, even as it kept spreading.
“This utter destruction is unprecedented,” Fanis Spanos told the state-run Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA), calling on civil protection authorities to send as much support as possible.
He said that hundreds of firefighters, municipal crews and volunteers battled all night to contain the blaze – which started in forestland on the outskirts of the seaside village of Limni in the island's north – but water-dumping aircraft were up against poor visibility.
The news agency said that the fire was active on the morning of Aug. 4 on four fronts, in Kafkala, where it was heading to Rovies on the coast, and Vateri, where it was threatening Limni.
“Eight villages were safely evacuated,” Spanos said. “In some cases, the evacuations may have seemed excessive, but our chief concern was to make sure than human lives were not being endangered,” the fires of 2018 that nearly destroyed the village of Mati 2018 a lesson in reacting pre-emptively.
The National Observatory of Athens (NOA) advised residents and visitors across the Attica basin to wear heavy-duty face masks when venturing outdoors to protect themselves from the thick smoke from the north Attica wildfire.
The NOA said that measurements taken by the European PurpleAir Real-time Air Quality Monitoring platform showed fine airborne inhalable particles far above recommended safety levels in many parts of the capital.
But it wasn't said whether the New Democracy government, which had advised people to avoid unnecessary travel or work during the heat wave, would let state workers stay home in the areas affected.
The NOA said that heavy-duty masks should be work, of the varieties known as N95, ΚΝ95 or FFP2 mask, which provide protection against PM2.5 particles,” the NOA said, referring to particles of 2.5 micrometers or smaller.
Civil protection authorities advised residents and tourists in Athens not to go outside unless necessary, with heavy smoke and soot odor smothering the city, making it difficult to breathe, on top of temperatures rising above 103 degrees.