Thousands of people in Greece fled to safety from a wildfire north of Athens early Friday as firefighters waged an overnight battle to stop the flames from reaching populated areas, electricity installations and historic sites.
On the nearby island of Evia, the Greek coast guard mounted a massive operation with patrol boats and private vessels to evacuate hundreds of residents and vacationers by sea as dozens of fires burned across the country for a third day amid a protracted heat wave.
One of the most severe blazes tore through forest areas 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) north of the capital, destroying more homes. Ground crews of several hundred firefighters dug fire breaks and hosed the flames.
Traffic was halted on the country’s main highway connecting Athens to northern Greece as crews tried to use the road as a firebreak before water-dropping planes resumed flights at first light. But sparks and burning pine cones carried the fire across the highway at several points.
Several firefighters and volunteers were hospitalized with burns, health officials said. Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said nine people had been taken by ambulance to hospitals in Athens from the fire north of the Greek capital, three of them suffering breathing problems, while 11 more were being treated in a health center on Evia.
“We are going through the 10th day of a major heat wave affecting our entire country, the worst heat wave in terms of intensity and duration of the last 30 years,” Fire Service Brig. Gen. Aristotelis Papadopoulos said.
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