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Fire in Varybobi Still Burning; Kryoneri Evacuated During the Night

VARIBOBI, Greece —The major fire that broke out in the wildland-urban interface in Varybobi, Attica on Tuesday was still burning unchecked on Wednesday morning, despite the efforts of strong fire-fighting forces through the night. Reinforcements have been sent from areas throughout the country to help put out the blaze, while five fire-fighting aircraft and nine helicopters resumed operations at first light.

The fire-fighting effort is being coordinated from the Mobile Operations Coordinating Centre "Olympos", which Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Deputy Civil Protection and Crises Management Minister Nikos Hardalias visited for an emergency meeting early on Wednesday.

"It was another exceptionally difficult night," Hardalias said while visiting the fire department mobile coordination center. He said fire fighters had succeeded in reducing four active fire fronts to one overnight. "There is still a lot of work to be done," he said.

Earlier, a message to evacuate part of the Kryoneri district that is near an area of forest at the start of Anoixi Road was sent to residents via the 112 European emergency number. There are numerous very large blazes throughout the area and roads were closed to traffic in the morning.

Firefighting planes resumed operation at first light in Greece on Wednesday to tackle the major forest fire that forced thousands to flee their homes the previous day amid the country's worst heat wave in decades. 

The fire in the Varibobi and Tatoi suburbs of the Greek capital was the worst of 81 wildfires that broke out around the country in 24 hours from late Monday to late Tuesday. 

Five water-dropping planes and nine helicopters were helping more than 500 firefighters, soldiers and numerous volunteer groups on the ground, the fire department said.

The fire was fueled by tinder-dry conditions caused by a protracted heat wave that began last week and sent temperatures soaring to 45 degrees Celsius (113 F).

There were no reports of deaths or serious injuries. The fire burned homes, businesses and vehicles, and sent a large cloud of smoke over Athens on Tuesday night. The government announced it would provide hotel rooms for local residents for as long as they are unable to return to their homes. 

On Tuesday, residents evacuated in cars and on foot, while riding schools in the area raced to evacuate horses from the path of the flames. Some horses, released from their stables, wandered down the streets.

The leafy suburbs of Varibobi and Tatoi lie at the foot of Mount Parnitha, next to large forests of mainly pine trees. The fire, which began on Tuesday afternoon inside the forest, quickly raced through the flammable pine and reached the main square of Varibobi.

Some nearby residents took to social media to offer shelter for animals affected by the fire.

Apart from the fire north of Athens, two more major forest fires were still burning Wednesday morning, one on the island of Evia and one in the southwestern Peloponnese.

The fire department said 95 firefighters, two aircraft, four ground teams and 35 vehicles were battling the flames in Evia, while 74 firefighters, three ground teams, 22 vehicles and one helicopter were tackling the fire in the Messinia area of the Peloponnese.

As the heat wave scorching the eastern Mediterranean intensified, temperatures reached 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 F) in parts of the Greek capital. The extreme weather has fueled deadly wildfires in Turkey and blazes in Italy, Greece, Albania and across the region.

The heatwave is forecast to continue in Greece until the end of the week. 

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