MEAGARA, Greece —Firefighters intensified water drops using planes and helicopters before nightfall Thursday after a wildfire west of Athens forced hundreds to flee their homes and sent a huge cloud of smoke and ash over the capital, obscuring the view of the Acropolis.
The fire gutted and damaged dozens of houses as it tore through rugged terrain, burning more than 2,000 hectares (5,000 hectares) of forest, authorities said. Smoke from the fire was visible across southern Greece and even on holiday islands in the Aegean Sea.
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Fire department officials said 17 water-dropping planes and three helicopters were involved to try to contain the blaze that started about 70 kilometers (45 miles) west of Athens outside the resort town of Loutraki.
A military helicopter drops water over a forest near the village of Schinos, Corinth, Greece, on Thursday, May 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
Megara on high alert
The city of Megara, west of Athens, is on high alert over the fire that broke out in a forest lying northwest, its mayor said on Thursday, as the velocity of winds than fan it is expected to rise.
Several villages have been evacuated after the Civil Service emergency calls through the 112 European number, while the fire that broke out in a dense forest at the Mt. Gerania region on Wednesday night "is out of control," as the mayor said, likening the situation in Megara to "a state of war."
"As early as 10:00 last night, when the fire broke out at Schinos in the Loutraki area, we went on high alert, as the winds were so strong that it was possible the fire front could reach our area," Mayor Grigoris Stamoulis said. "We have been up since 3:00 am. The Civil Protection agency had been activated immediately, and when the front rekindled around 12:00 noon, we asked for immediate evacuation of areas for preventative reasons."
A fire fighting airplane drops water in a forest near Alepochori , Greece, on Thursday, May 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
Despite a drop in wind velocity, it is expected to rise again and remain high throughout the night, Stamoulis said. "We are in constant contact with the state mechanism, which moved immediately, both the Fire Brigade and airborne forces," he added.
The effects of the smoke and the smell of burnt wood are being felt in Athens as well.
The government called on residents of Egirousses-Dourakos near Alepochori to evacuate on Thursday, following the raging of a wildfire in Schinos, the Loutraki area of Corinthia on the Peloponnese.
The evacuation call was placed through the 112 European emergency number by the Civil Protection General Secretariat.
Several villages have already been evacuated around the dense pine forest of Schinos, where the fire broke out late on Wednesday and where high winds are fanning it.
Residents are asked to evacuate through the coastal road of Alepochori-Megara.
Smoke from Corinthia wildfire has spread as far as Ikaria
Smoke and ash from the forest fire have spread as far as Attica, the Cyclades archipelago and the island of Ikaria due to strong west-northwesterly winds, the Athens National Observatory weather service meteo revealed on Thursday.
The fire started on Wednesday night in forest east of Schino, when the nearest meteo automated weather station (at the Corinth Isthmus) was recording wind speeds of 5-6 Beaufort and gusts of up to 61 km. Meteo scientists noted, however, that stronger winds cannot be ruled out locally because "fires create their own weather".
Fire burns among houses during a wildfire in the village of Schinos, near Corinth, Greece, late Wednesday, May 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Valerie Gache)
Meteo proceeded with the pilot activation of IRIS 2.0, the latest version of its rapid response forecast system for the spread of forest fires. The new version has significant differences, such as greater horizontal analysis for simulating spread and ability to simulate moisture levels in the dead combustible matter.
The large wildfire damaged homes and prompted evacuations Thursday as it tore through rugged forest terrain.
Fire Service officials said eight water-dropping planes and three helicopters were involved to try to contain the blaze some 70 kilometers (45 miles) west of Athens, outside the resort town of Loutraki.
Sixty-two fire engines crewed by 182 fire fighters, seven teams of firemen on foot, a special Fire Brigade vehicle and water-dropping helicopters were out battling the blaze on Thursday.
Fire burns during a wildfire near the village of Schinos, near Corinth, Greece, late Wednesday, May 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Valerie Gache)
The settlements Schinos, Aghia Sotira, Vamvakes, Mavrolimni, Mazi and Paraskevas have been evacuated, as well as the monasteries Aghios Ioannis Makrinos and Aghia Paraskevi as a precaution, according to the fire brigade.
"The fire brigade is doing everything possible to get this large fire under control, which due to the westerly winds is heading towards the Geraneia Mountains. Until now, we do not have official data on damage to homes, most of which are holiday homes and are not currently inhabited," said Vassilis Vathrakogiannis, a fire department spokesperson, to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA).
No injuries were reported.
Wildfires are common during Greece’s hot summers. A blaze that hit coastal areas east of Athens in July 2018, around the seaside resort of Mati, killed at least 102 people.
Firefighter try to extinguish the blazes during a wildfire near the village of Schinos, near Corinth, Greece, late Wednesday, May 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Valerie Gache)
Firefighter are seen in from of flames as fire burns during a wildfire near the village of Schinos, near Corinth, Greece, late Wednesday, May 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Valerie Gache)