By Alkis Konstantinidis and Vassilis Triandafyllou
Greek authorities urged residents of a coastal region near Athens to abandon their homes as a wildfire raged uncontrolled on Monday, closing one of Greece’s busiest motorways, halting train links and sending plumes of smoke over the capital.
Authorities deployed firefighters and equipment from across Greece to deal with the massive blaze at Kineta, a small resort town about 54 km west of Athens on a route tens of thousands of drivers use daily to reach the Peloponnese.
A senior fire chief went on state TV to appeal to people to leave the area after some tried to stay put in their properties.
“People should leave, close up their homes and just leave. People cannot tolerate so much smoke for so many hours,” Achilleas Tzouvaras said. “This is an extreme situation.”
A second fire erupted at Mount Penteli, north of Athens, on Monday afternoon.
Strong winds fanned towering walls of flames near Kineta, stretching as wide as 6 km, local officials said. Dozens of homes were thought to have been damaged or destroyed by the blaze. Some householders took up hosepipes to douse the fires while police assisted with the evacuation of some areas.
The main Athens-Corinth motorway, one of two road routes to the Peloponnese peninsula, was shut and train services were cancelled.
Raging across land around the Saronicos Gulf, the blaze ravaged tracts of pine forest and was visible for miles. An ominous cloud of black-orange smoke hung over the Acropolis hill and the Parthenon temple in Athens on Monday afternoon.
The inferno was thought to have started in a ravine in mountains overlooking Kineta, which is a popular resort town among Athenians.
“We have many assets out to protect residences, and primarily lives,” said Yannis Kapakis, the general secretary of the Civil Protection Ministry.
Wildfires are common in Greece in summer, but a dry winter has created tinderbox conditions. Dozens of people died when fires raged for days across the Peloponnese in 2007.
Last November, more than 20 people were killed in flash flooding in the area of Mandra near to Kineta.