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Wildfire fuelled by gale-force winds forces evacuations in Greece


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 A wildfire fuelled by gale-force winds took hold in the mountainous region of Penteli near Athens on Wednesday morning, burning homes and causing authorities to order the evacuation of at least nine areas and a hospital.

The fire initially broke out at around 2.30pm on Tuesday afternoon in the region 27km north of central Athens.

Around 485 firefighters and 120 fire engines were sent out to tackle the blaze which was burning on several fronts. More than seven helicopters and planes were dumping water on the flames.

“It was a difficult night,” said Fire Department spokesperson Yiannis Artopios in a televised statement, noting that the wind speed exceeded 80 kilometres per hour. Strong winds are expected to persist until Wednesday afternoon.

“Due to the intensity and speed of the winds, the fire constantly changed direction throughout the night, which made fighting it, in the middle of the night, even more difficult,”

One hospital and the National Observatory of Athens had been evacuated as a precaution. Traffic was halted on roads leading to Penteli and police helped at least 600 residents to find their way out of the fire-stricken areas.

The breakout follows the news of Greece’s new initiative to help prevent a reoccurrence of last year´s disastrous fire season with the introduction of the rescEU firefighting fleet. 

The EU pre-positioned some heavy duty fire fighting forces to Greece from six member countries: Bulgaria, Finland, France, Germany, Norway and Romania. These countries are a part of the Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM) and are deploying more than 200 firefighters to Greece in total.

Last year, wildfires hit around 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heat wave in 30 years.

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