FOREST fires fanned by strong winds and high temperatures broke out around Athens and in other parts of southern Greece yesterday, sending residents fleeing as clouds of smoke billowed over their homes.
The wildfires created a new problem for the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, which is struggling to obtain a fresh bailout from foreign creditors.
The police said 34 separate fires had broken out on four main fronts in a region stretching from the island of Evia, northeast of Athens, to the southern Peloponnese. A 58-year-old died after inhaling fumes and suffering respiratory problems but there were no other reports of casualties.
Tsipras urged calm as more than 140 firefighters with 80 fire engines and 11 aircraft battled the flames near Athens, which were close to homes.
A neighbourhood playground was razed and flames surrounded the local church. Dozens of people, including elderly women, tried to put out the flames with buckets of water.
Tsipras told media he had asked the air force and armed forces for help and had appealed to other European countries for assistance with extra fire-fighting aircraft.
Forest fires are common in summer in Greece but memories remain vivid of the huge damage and heavy loss of life in 2007, during the most serious outbreak in recent years.
Energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, with a protective mask across his face, told Greek TV from the scene of a fire: “We are all making an effort to stop the worst.” He was heckled by angry residents who accused him of doing “micro politics” and urged him to “take off your jacket and help”.
In the region of Laconia in the southern Peloponnese one fire-fighting aircraft
was forced to make an emergency landing.