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Wildfires blaze in Athens outskirts as Greece battles worst heat in 30 years

Firefighting planes were resuming operation at first light Wednesday to tackle a major forest fire on the northern outskirts of Athens (Thanassis Stavrakis/AP)

Thousands of residents fled their homes in Athens as forest fires swept the north of the city, burning houses, severing electricity supplies and sending plumes of thick smoke into the air as Greece grappled with its worst heat wave in 30 years.

Emergency services worked to contain the flames, in part by sending planes to drop water from the sky.

Greek officials confirmed Wednesday that at least 77 people had been hospitalized as a result of the huge blaze in the Varympompi area of Athens.

Temperatures soared to 115.3 degrees Fahrenheit earlier this week as Greece recorded its hottest day on record. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said this week that the country was “facing the worst heat wave since 1987,” during which more than 1,000 people died.

George Patoulis, regional governor of greater Athens, described the fire as “large” and said the heat had dried out the landscape, worsening the conditions. “It will take a lot of work to get this under control,” he said Tuesday on state-run television.

“The fire is still raging, its perimeter is very wide and the heat load is very strong,” a fire brigade official said Wednesday, according to Reuters.

On Wednesday, Greek emergency services took to Twitter to warn residents and tourists of “extreme fire danger” in Rhodes and Crete, and advised people that conditions were “very difficult.”

“Whenever I go outside on the balcony it ‘rains’ ashes from the sky,” tweeted Demetrios Ioannou, a journalist living around 20 miles from the fires raging in Athens.

What you need to know about how wildfires spread

The fires come following devastating blazes in nearby Turkey, which saw lush green landscapes blackened by the inferno and forced residents to flee their villages.

At least eight people were killed in the city of Antalya and parts of the country’s Turquoise Coast, and livestock across affected areas perished before help arrived.

Turkish authorities said that over the past week, rescue services had battled to contain more than 100 fires.

Climate experts blamed rising temperatures on the widespread devastation, which was also seen in Italy, where residents in Sicily were evacuated, and in Finland, which saw its worst forest fire in half a century.

In the United States, record-breaking heat over the summer triggered fires and stifling smoke.

Last month, Greece became the first country in Europe to appoint a chief heat officer. In Athens, Eleni Myrivili will be responsible for finding ways to keep the city cool as the world faces more extreme conditions as a result of climate change.

The mayor of Athens, Kostas Bakoyannis, said that finding ways to navigate the consequences of the climate crisis was an issue for cities and countries worldwide.

“Climate change for our city means more frequent and dangerous extreme high temperatures for residents and for tourists who are critical for our economy,” he said.

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