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Greece Wildfires Continue as New Blazes Break Out Near Athens

Flames rise next to a house as a wildfire burns in the village of Sinterina, Greece, Aug. 16, 2021.

Two new wildfires burned uncontrollably outside the Greek capital, Athens, on Monday, forcing nearby villages to evacuate.

An area near the town of Lavrio, southeast of Athens, was the first to ignite, as flames fanned by strong winds decimated mountainside vegetation before spreading to pine trees. Three villages were evacuated, while 91 firefighters, six water-dropping planes and six helicopters were deployed to contain the blaze.

The raging fire is in danger of spreading to Sounio National Park, which boasts the ancient Temple of Poseidon.

A second fire broke out northwest of the capital in Vilia, forcing another three villages to evacuate. Over 240 firefighters were fighting the blaze, along with eight water-dropping planes and nine helicopters, according to The Associated Press.

The blazes are the latest in a series of over 500 wildfires to break out in Greece, elongating weeks of devastation that brought the destruction of hundreds of buildings and tens of thousands of acres of land. One volunteer firefighter and an Athens official died as a result of the fires, and tens of thousands of people have been evacuated.

The severity of the wildfires was driven by the country's worst heat wave in decades, during which temperatures topped 45° C (113° F). The record heat wave also sparked uncontrolled fires across Albania, Algeria, Italy, Lebanon, North Macedonia, Russia, Spain and Turkey.

The Greek government has been criticized for its lackluster response to the fires and has relied on assistance from the United States, the European Union and Middle Eastern countries to contain them.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis apologized on television last week for "any weaknesses that may have occurred" in his government's response.

"I fully understand the pain of our fellow citizens who saw their homes or property burned," Mitsotakis said. "Any failures will be identified. And responsibility will be assigned wherever necessary."

The same day, Mitsotakis approved an aid package of 500 million euros ($587 million) to fund reforestation efforts and compensate those who lost homes or property.

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.