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Greek wildfire rages near Athens; Apartments, hospital evacuated

Greek wildfire rages near Athens;  Apartments, hospital evacuated
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ATHENS, July 19 (Reuters) – A Greek wildfire, fueled by gale force winds, raged in the mountainous region of Penteli near Athens on Tuesday, prompting authorities to order the evacuation of at least four areas and a hospital.

Heavy plumes of smoke billowed into the sky over Mount Penteli, where the fire broke out around 1430 GMT, some 27 km (16 miles) north of central Athens.

Pictures showed the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis hill bathed in red light due to the fire burning in the background. According to eyewitnesses, the flames could be seen by nightfall from the island of Euboea, about 50 km away.

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Local media reported that the fire burned down at least one home, but the fire department declined to confirm the information. There were no reports of injuries, the fire department said.

About 420 firefighters, supported by 85 machines, tried to contain the fire, which was burning on several fronts in the late afternoon. More than 24 helicopters and planes previously dumped water on the blaze but were forced to suspend operations at night for safety reasons.

Authorities ordered the evacuation of four areas: Drafi, Anthousa, Dioni and Dasamari. They also advised residents in other areas to prepare for evacuation.

A hospital and the National Observatory of Athens were evacuated as a precaution. Traffic was halted on the roads leading to Penteli and police were helping residents find their way out of the fire-ravaged areas.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis chaired a conference call with civil defense agencies about the fire.

“Today is a difficult day. We are at the height of the fire season and current conditions are facilitating the outbreak and spread of fires,” fire department spokesman Yiannis Artopios said in a statement.

Artopios previously told state television ERT that the fire was a “difficult” case and that 28 firefighters from Romania were assisting local firefighters.

“We fight it, we try to circle the fire,” said Artopios.

The wind is expected to persist through Wednesday afternoon.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby in Greece during the hottest months of July and August.

Last year wildfires devastated about 121,000 hectares of forest and scrubland in various parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

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Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, Karolina Tagaris and Alkis Konstantinidis; writing by Renee Maltezou; Edited by Sandra Maler and Richard Pullin

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