Source AP ©

Wildfires in Greece take 2 lives

Wildfires swept through Greece on Thursday, killing two people and destroying homes. Days of record high temperatures led to at least nine heatstroke deaths and extensive power cuts.

Authorities evacuated a mountain hotel and casino complex, an airforce radar station and a children's camp on the outskirts of Athens late Thursday, as a massive forest fire raged out of control through the Mount Parnitha national park.

An airforce spokesman said radar personnel were being evacuated by helicopter.

"We decided this as a precaution," Christos Vaitsis told The Associated Press. "The fire is moving toward the unit."

As clouds of smoke cast a pall over Athens, police sealed off the road leading up the heavily forested mountain, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) northwest of the capital.

"We will fight all night," Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras said. He added that firefighting planes were unable to join the effort due to zero visibility from the smoke.

Earlier Thursday, two men, aged 36 and 42, died trapped in flames after abandoning their truck in a forest fire outside the central Greek city of Larissa, fire officials said. A third man in the truck escaped unharmed. The blaze broke out Wednesday and was still burning Thursday.

An explosion in a power substation in Thessaloniki caused blackouts of up to six hours in the northern port city and throughout the northeastern provinces of Macedonia and Thrace, further burdening a grid strained by increased use of air conditioners.

State-run Public Power Corp. said the blast - in which nobody was hurt - was caused by a transformer that malfunctioned and that efforts were under way to repair the damage.

More than 130 wildfires swept through thousands of acres (hectares) of forest and brush across the country, several for the second day, while parts of central Greece were declared in a state of emergency.

Fire officials said arson was to blame for at least one fire near Athens.

Interior Minister Procopis Pavlopoulos said firefighters were involved in a "titanic" effort.

"We are facing an unprecedented situation," he said.

On the resort island of Poros, firefighters brought under partial control a large blaze that destroyed at least 10 homes Wednesday, and forced the evacuation of dozens of homes and three hotels.

Another major fire was burning on Mount Pelion in central Greece, where three homes were destroyed and dozens evacuated.

Police briefly closed off a section of the country's main north-south highway after billowing smoke from a fire near Tanagra, some 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Athens reduced visibility. The blaze, fanned by strong winds, was also threatening a local industrial park.

A total of 24 water-dropping planes and 13 helicopters nationwide were assisting hundreds of firefighters on the ground, officials said.

Italy's civil protection agency said it had sent two extra aircraft to help the effort, while France and Portugal were to contribute a total of three planes after Greece asked its European Union partners for help.

The fires were sparked by an early summer heat wave that has caused at least nine heatstroke deaths - including a 103-year-old man - in Greece since Monday and killed dozens more in southeast Europe.

Health Ministry officials said more than 140 people were hospitalized with heatstroke over the past 24 hours, with three in intensive care.

Temperatures remained below 40 C (104 F) in most parts of the country Thursday, with a high of 41 C (105.8 F) in Athens, but emergency fire warnings remained in effect for most regions.

On Tuesday, the heat hit a high of 46 C (115 F), the highest for the month of June since 1889 according to government officials.

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