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As fires abate in southern Europe, blaze hits Greek capital

PALINI, Greece (AP) — Nearly 500 firefighters struggled to contain a large wildfire that threatened hillside suburbs outside Athens for a second day on Wednesday, after hundreds of residents were evacuated overnight.

Fires continued to burn across southern Europe, but authorities in France, Spain and Portugal all reported improving conditions with respite from severe heat waves.

At least two people were hospitalized in the Greek capital with breathing problems and minor burns, while local officials said several homes were set on fire in the blaze around Mount Penteli, 25 kilometers (16 miles) north. northeast of Athens.

“The conditions are very difficult. The priority is to protect human life, critical infrastructure and private property,” said fire department spokesman Yiannis Artopios. Nineteen water-dropping planes and helicopters were on duty Wednesday, officials said, adding that more than 600 people had been evacuated from their homes so far. Helicopters collected water pumped from outdoor tanks on the hillside before flying away in thick smoke to knock off the water.

A firefighter stands in front of two burnt-out cars in the Panorama Palinis area, east of Athens, Wednesday, July 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Artopios said the fire was contained on all fronts despite difficult conditions earlier in the day with winds of up to 80 kilometers per hour (50 mph). But a second fire broke out in the hills outside the town of Megara, 40 kilometers (25 miles) to the west, prompting a new, but more limited, round of evacuations.

Greece has avoided the heatwave now hitting western European countries, but fire officials say weeks-long hot and dry conditions, along with longer-term temperature rises, have increased the global risk of forest fires.

Cooler weather has given firefighters some respite in Spain and Portugal, but temperatures are expected to rise to 40 degrees Celsius (104F) in the coming days.

Petteri Taalas, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization, said more frequent and extreme heat waves were an inevitable consequence of climate change. “In the future, these kinds of heat waves will become normal. We will see stronger extremes. We have pumped so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that the negative trend will continue for decades,” Taalas said in a statement Tuesday. “I hope this will be a wake-up call for governments.”

A series of fires in Spain’s northwest region of Galicia have burned 85 homes and forced the evacuation of 1,400 people. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez visited the region on Tuesday evening and warned of “difficult days ahead here in Galicia and the rest of Spain”.

In France, firefighters have created huge firebreaks across threatened forests in the country’s southwest, using heavy machinery to uproot trees and roots to leave large barren strips to prevent fires from spreading. propagate. After a week of raging wildfires, the flames have slowed.

“We are quite confident,” said Ronan Leaustic, a regional manager in south-west Gironde. “But we remain very vigilant.”

The Gironde fires have burned 206 square kilometers (80 square miles) of forest, authorities say.

So far this year, forest fires in France have consumed 25% more land compared to the same period last year, the government said on Wednesday, announcing the requisition of two civilian helicopters to help fight against the fires.

Portugal’s health ministry said between July 7 and July 18 the excess death rate was 1,065, with officials blaming the heat wave for the spike and saying more heat deaths are likely in the next few days with the return of high temperatures.

– Gatopoulos reported from Athens, Greece. Lefteris Pitarakis in Drafi, Greece; Raquel Redondo in Madrid; Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal; Barbara Surk in Nice, France; and John Leicester in Paris contributed.

About the photo: A firefighter stands in front of two burnt-out cars in the Panorama Palinis area, east of Athens, Wednesday, July 20, 2022. Hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes on Tuesday evening as a forest fire threatened the mountainside suburb northeast of Athens. . Firefighters battled through the night, struggling to contain the blaze which was being intensified by strong gusts of wind. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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