PALINI, Greece —
Nearly 500 firefighters struggled to contain a large wildfire that threatened hillside suburbs outside Athens for a second day Wednesday, after hundreds of residents were evacuated overnight.
Fires continued to burn across Southern Europe, but authorities in France, Spain and Portugal all reported improved conditions with a respite from severe heat wave conditions.
At least two people were hospitalized in the Greek capital with breathing problems and minor burns, while local officials said several houses had been burned in the fire around Mount Penteli, about 16 miles northeast of Athens.
“The conditions are very challenging. The priority is to safeguard human life, critical infrastructure and private property,” Fire Service spokesman Yiannis Artopios said. Five water-dropping aircraft and four helicopters were operating Wednesday, officials said, adding that more than 600 people have evacuated from their homes so far.
Artopios said winds of up to 50 mph were making air support difficult for fire crews.
Greece has avoided the heat wave that is currently afflicting countries in Western Europe, but fire officials say that hot and dry conditions that have lasted for weeks, as well as longer-term temperature rises, have increased the overall risk of forest fires.
Cooler weather gave firefighters in Spain and Portugal some respite, but temperatures are forecast to rise back to 104 degrees in the coming days.
A spate of blazes in Spain’s northwestern Galicia region has burned 85 houses and forced the evacuation of 1,400 people. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez visited the area late Tuesday and warned of “hard days ahead here in Galicia and the rest of Spain”.
In France, firefighters created huge firebreaks through threatened forests in the southwest of the country, using heavy machinery to tear out trees and roots, in order to leave large barren strips to stop the fires from spreading. After a week of raging wildfires, the blazes have slowed.
“We are pretty confident,” said Ronan Leaustic, a regional official from the southwestern Gironde area. “But we are still very vigilant.”
The Gironde fires have burned 80 square miles of forests, authorities say.
Portugal’s health ministry says that from July 7-18 the excess mortality rate was 1,065 deaths, with officials blaming the heat wave for the spike and saying more heat deaths are likely in coming days as high temperatures return.