Dozens of Homes Damaged Outside Athens, 250 Firefighters Still Battling Wildfire

Wildfires tore through forests west of Athens, forcing hundreds to flee their homes as the fire caused extensive damage to dozens of houses while more than 250 firefighters battled the blaze.

Fire department spokesman Lt. Col. Vassilis Vathrakoyiannis said the firefighters were deployed in an attempt to keep the fire from reaching the town of Megara, which has a population of over 30,000.

The wildfire burned homes and more than 2,000 hectares of forest, authorities said. Smoke from the fire could be seen across southern Greece and even as far as the holiday islands in the Aegean Sea.

The blaze started about 45 miles west of Athens outside of the resort town of Loutraki. In addition to the firefighters, 17 water-dropping planes and three helicopters were deployed in an attempt to contain the blaze.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

greek wildfires plane drop
A firefighting helicopter drops water toward a monastery, near the village of Alepochori, after an overnight fire on a mountain range overlooking the Gulf of Corinth, on May 20. Scores of Greek villagers were evacuated early on May 20, as a forest fire raged overnight around the protected wildlife habitat of Mount Geraneia, the fire department said, with no injuries immediately reported. Louisa GOULIAMAKI/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters intensified water drops using planes and helicopters before nightfall Thursday after a wildfire west of Athens sent a huge cloud of smoke and ash over the capital, obscuring the view of the Acropolis.

But the drops would have to stop overnight.

"It's going to be another difficult night and the conditions will remain difficult. But we're using all the resources we have on this," Civil Protection chief Nikos Hardalias said.

On Thursday, authorities issued evacuation orders for 18 settlements, in areas with many vacation homes. Two Orthodox Christian monasteries and one convent were also evacuated.

The fire destroyed power lines, causing widespread blackouts, and reached a nearby coastline and damaged several fishing boats. The Civil Protection Authority activated a cellphone-enabled alert service to help the evacuation effort.

"The situation…remains dangerous with fires rekindling at many locations," Vathrakoyiannis said.

He said a lull in high winds had helped firefighters, but officials noted that winds of up to 60 kph (37 mph) were expected later.

Wildfires are common during Greece's hot summers. A blaze that hit coastal areas east of Athens in July 2018, around the seaside resort of Mati, killed at least 102 people.

Greece has requested the use of a European Union satellite service to help assess the damage.

Smoke covered parthenon
A view of the ancient Parthenon and Athens with smoke visible from a wildfire near Schinos, near Corinth, Greece, May 20. A large wildfire in Greece has damaged homes and prompted evacuations. Fire Service officials said eight water-dropping planes and three helicopters are trying to contain the blaze some 45 miles west of Athens, outside the resort town of Loutraki. Michalis Varaklas/AP Photo