PALINE, Greece ( Associated Press) – About 500 firefighters struggled to extinguish a massive wildfire that threatened the mountainous suburbs outside Athens for a second day on Wednesday, with hundreds of residents evacuated overnight.
watch: Severe heat wave continues in Europe, temperature record broken
Fires continued to burn across southern Europe, but authorities in France, Spain and Portugal reported an improvement in the situation with relief from the scorching heat.
At least two people in the Greek capital were hospitalized with shortness of breath and minor burns, while local officials said several houses were on fire around Mount Panteli, 25 kilometers (16 miles) northeast of Athens. were burnt.
“Things are very challenging. The priority is to protect human lives, critical infrastructure and private property,” said fire service spokesman Yiannis Artopios. Officials said 19 water-dropping aircraft and helicopters were operational on Wednesday. Officials said that so far more than 600 people have been evacuated from their homes. Helicopters scooped pumped water into external tanks on the hill before blowing up in thick smoke to form water droplets.
Artopios said the fire was brought under control on all fronts despite tough conditions with winds gusts up to 80 kilometers per hour (50 mph) during the day. But a second fire broke out in the hills outside the town of Megara, 40 kilometers (25 mi) to the west, prompting a new, but more limited round of evacuation.
Greece has avoided the heat wave that is currently afflicting countries in Western Europe, but fire officials say hot and dry conditions that have lasted for weeks, as well as prolonged temperature increases, have contributed to the overall risk of wildfires. increased risk.
Cold weather brought some respite to firefighters in Spain and Portugal, but temperatures are forecast to rise to 40 degrees Celsius (104F) in the coming days.
World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petrie Talas said more frequent and more extreme heat waves were an inevitable consequence of climate change. “In future, these types of heat waves are going to be normal. We will see stronger extremes. We have pumped so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that the negative trend will continue for decades,” Talas said in a statement on Tuesday. “I hope this will be a wake-up call for governments.”
A massive fire in Spain’s north-western Galicia region has burned down 85 homes and forced 1,400 people to evacuate. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez visited the region late Tuesday and warned of “difficult days to come here in Galicia and the rest of Spain”.
In France, firefighters built massive flames through threatened forests in the south-west of the country, using heavy machinery to tear down trees and roots, leaving large barren strips to stop the fire from spreading. did. After a week-long raging fire, the flames have subsided.
“We are very confident,” said Ronan Leustic, a regional official for the southwestern Gironde region. “But we are still very cautious.”
Officials say the Gironde fire has burned 206 square kilometers (80 sq mi) of forests.
Wildfires in France have consumed 25 percent more land so far this year than the same period last year, the government said on Wednesday as it announced two civilian helicopters are needed to help tackle the blazes .
Portugal’s health ministry says the higher death toll between July 7-18 was 1,065, with officials blaming a heat wave for the spike and saying more heat-related deaths are likely in the coming days because of higher temperatures. will come back.
Gatopoulos reported from Athens, Greece. Lefteris Pitarakis in Drafi, Greece; Raquel Redondo in Madrid; Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal; Barbara Surak in Nice, France; and John Leicester in Paris contributed.