Athens district evacuated as Greek fire death toll hits 20

Colombia declares emergency over raging forest fires
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Thousands of people in an outer district of Greece‘s capital Athens were under evacuation orders Tuesday as firefighters battled a steadily growing wave of wildfires around the country that has left 20 dead.

Civil protection ordered the evacuation of Ano Liosia in northwest Athens, a district of over 25,000 people while at the neighbouring community of Fyli an AFP journalist saw homes on fire.

Over 60 fires had erupted in the last 24 hours, and six countries were sending help via the European Union’s civil protection mechanism, the fire department said, amid a dangerous mix of gale-force winds and temperatures of up to 41 degrees Celsius.

“The situation is unprecedented, weather conditions are extreme,” fire department spokesman Yiannis Artopios told state TV ERT, adding that the Tuesday fires “grew to gigantic size” in a short space of time.

Earlier on Tuesday, eighteen suspected migrants were found dead in a forest fire near the Turkish border, north of the city of Alexandroupolis.

As no local residents had been reported missing “the possibility that they are people who entered our country illegally is under investigation,” fire department spokesman Yiannis Artopios said in a televised address.

The area is a frequent entry point for irregular migrants. The latest deaths pushed the overall toll from this week’s fires to 20.

Another suspected migrant was found dead in the area and an elderly shepherd was found dead north of Athens on Monday.

“Greece is witnessing an unprecedented scale of wildfire devastation this summer and in such trying times the EU’s swift assistance is vital,” Janez Lenarčič, Commissioner for Crisis Management, said in a statement.

– Hospital evacuated –

The lower slopes of Mount Parnitha, the largest forest bordering Athens, was ablaze, having already fallen victim to wildfires several times.

Officials shut down the nearest section of the Athens ring road, and advised residents to stay indoors.

Another major blaze was still raging at a landfill in the industrial zone of Aspropyrgos, west of Athens, covering the area in a noxious black cloud.

Flames continued to spread unchecked in northeastern Greece as well as the islands of Evia and Kythnos, the region of Boeotia north of Athens, in the Peloponnese and in western Greece.

Late Monday, an evacuation was ordered at the hospital of Alexandroupolis, a northeastern Greek port city located in an area where fires were raging for a fourth day.

The coastguard said it had moved 65 patients to a waiting ferry at the city harbour.

The fire near Alexandroupolis is also threatening the national park of Dadia, one of the most important protected areas in Europe that is home to rare birds of prey.

On the island of Evia, near the capital, officials late Monday evacuated the industrial town of Nea Artaki, where the fire has damaged poultry and pork farms.

The very hot and dry conditions which increase the fire risk will persist until Friday, according to meteorologists.

Amid a heatwave, a fire that started on July 18 and was fanned by strong winds ravaged almost 17,770 hectares (more than 43,000 acres) in 10 days in the south of Rhodes, a popular tourist island in the southeastern Aegean Sea.

Around 20,000 people, mostly tourists, had to be evacuated.

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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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