Firefighters in Greece beat back large blaze outside Athens

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A volunteer operates as a bulldozer opens fire break during a wildfire in Siderina village helicopter about 55 kilometers (34 miles) south of Athens, Greece, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. Two new big wildfires fanned by strong winds erupted Monday in hard-hit Greece, triggering evacuation alerts for villages southeast and northwest of Athens — days after blazes consumed large tracts of forest to the capital’s north. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Hundreds of firefighters in Greece backed by more than 30 water-dropping planes gained ground Tuesday against a large forest fire burning for the second day that led to the evacuation of a nursing home and several villages northwest of Athens.

The blaze in dense forest in the Vilia area began Monday, shortly after another wildfire broke out southeast of the Greek capital in the Keratea area. The two were the most severe among dozens of wildfires to erupt that day, the fire department said.

Greece’s minister for public order, Michalis Chrysochoidis, said late Tuesday the situation at Vilia was improving despite a number of flareups and that the Keratea blaze had been contained.

Hundreds of wildfires have burned across Greece this month, fueled by the country’s most severe heat wave in decades.

Intense heat and wildfires have also struck other Mediterranean countries. France was battling a forest fire along the French Rivieraon Tuesday, and recent wildfires have killed at least 75 people in Algeria and 16 in Turkey. Worsening drought and heat have also fueled wildfires in the western United Statesand in Russia’s northern Siberia region.

Greece’s fire department said 370 firefighters with 115 vehicles were fighting the Vilia blaze Tuesday, with air support provided by 20 water-dropping planes and 12 helicopters. That and the Keratea fire have devoured an estimated 5,000 hectares (12,400 acres) of forest and farmland, mostly in the Vilia area.

Firefighters were also still trying secure the boundaries of major blazes in a national park north of Athens and on the Greek island of Evia. Others, including 40 Austrian firefighters, were fighting two major fires in the southern Greek region of the Peloponnese.

Arson has been suspected as the cause of some fires. On Tuesday, police announced they had arrested two people on suspicion of setting two fires, both of which were quickly extinguished.

The first was a 54-year-old Greek man who allegedly set fire to papers and dry vegetation Sunday near a village west of Athens. The second case involved a 29-year-old foreign woman whose nationality was not released. She is accused of setting dry leaves alight in a square in Athens.

Climate scientists, meanwhile, say there’s little doubt that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving more extreme events, such as heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods and storms.

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