Residents near Athens discover ruins left by blaze
“Last night was hell”: Standing in front of his burnt warehouse, in the midst of charred pine trees, Christos Sfetsas deplores the “enormous damage” in his village on the outskirts of Athens, ravaged by one of dozens of wildfires hitting Greece.
The blaze started on Tuesday in a pine forest at the foot of Mount Parnitha, one of three ranges that surround the Greek capital, sending plumes of dark, acrid smoke over Athens and leaving carcasses of burnt-out houses in its wake.
Like hundreds of other locals, Sfetsas was ordered to leave his home in Varybombi on Tuesday as the fire spread on four fronts and was fast getting out of control.
“The damage is huge,” Sfetsas, in his seventies, said as he returned on Wednesday.
“The flames came very near our house but luckily it wasn’t damaged.”
Some 30 kilometres north of Athens, Varybombi is a green village popular with residents in the capital wanting to escape the pollution.
“Once a paradise,” it has been devastated, Sfetsas says.
The blaze spread quickly. “Within half-an-hour, it was disaster.”
Smoke rises from the ruins of what were once tavernas, businesses and homes. Cars, pines are charred.
More than 300 people were evacuated from Varybombi and two other neighbouring villages on Tuesday evening and police said they came to the rescue of 70 people surrounded by flames.
There were no victims, and on Wednesday afternoon, deputy minister for civil protection Nikos Hardalias said the blaze was coming under control.
According to Hardalias, Greece has been hit with around 118 fires in the last 24 hours as a severe heatwave hits the country, with temperatures soaring above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).
“My house was spared the worst, God spared us, but neighbouring houses were burnt,” Giorgos Mitropoulos told AFP.
The student described the blaze as an “environmental disaster” at the foot of Mount Parnitha, part of the European Union’s Natura 2000 network of nature conservation sites.
The mountain range had already been ravaged by flames in 2007.
“Luckily, lots of volunteers saved the animals, the horses, the dogs and cats,” said Mitropoulos.
Some 200 horses in riding centres in the area were moved to safety, the Greek horse-riding confederation said.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the fire was rendered “difficult” due to “extreme heat conditions.”
But Christos Sfetsas blamed forestry authorities and a “lack of preventive measures, like the establishment of roads protecting forests against fires” that would allow specialist vehicles to better access the forests.
Authorities in Athens have recommended residents stay indoors and wear a mask to protect against the ash and lingering smoke.
The European Union’s crisis management commissioner said it would help, and Cyprus and Sweden were both sending two water-bombing planes to help battle the fires.
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