ALEXANDROUPOLIS, Greece (AP) — A massive wall of flames raced through forests toward a port city in northeastern Greece overnight, prompting authorities to evacuate another eight villages and a city hospital as firefighters battled dozens more wildfires across the country on Tuesday.
Gale-force winds and high summer temperatures have hampered the efforts of hundreds of firefighters backed by dozens of water-dropping aircraft as they tackle wildfires breaking out across Greece.
The fire risk level for several regions, including the wider Athens area, was listed as “extreme” for the second day Tuesday. Authorities have banned public access to mountains and forests in those regions until at least Wednesday morning and ordered military patrols.
On Monday, the blazes left two people dead and two firefighters injured in northern and central Greece.
About 65 of the more than 100 patients in the Alexandroupolis hospital in northeastern Greece were transported to a ferry boat docked in the city’s port as the country’s largest wildfire currently burning out of control entered its fourth day. Others were taken to other hospitals in northern Greece.
The flames turned the sky over the city and across the region red, hiding the sun as choking smoke and swirling flecks of ash filled the air.
A school, several homes and a cemetery were damaged in two villages near Alexandroupolis, where more than 200 firefighters were battling the flames, supported by four airplanes and three helicopters. Dozens more houses were damaged by another wildfire in the Kavala region, local authorities said, while a separate fire in the Evros border region was burning through forest in a protected national park.
The coast guard evacuated 14 people by sea overnight from a nearby coastal area to the port of Alexandroupolis.
A new fire broke out in the Aspropyrgos area on the western fringes of the Greek capital Tuesday morning, prompting authorities to issue evacuation orders for two villages in the area.
Romania sent 56 firefighters and Cyprus send two water-dropping aircraft to help fight the wildfire in Alexandroupolis, while French firefighters helped tackle a separate fire on the island of Evia.
Greece suffers destructive wildfires every summer. Its deadliest wildfire killed 104 people in 2018, at a seaside resort near Athens that residents had not been warned to evacuate. Authorities have since erred on the side of caution, issuing swift mass evacuation orders whenever inhabited areas are under threat.
Last month, a wildfire on the resort island of Rhodes forced the evacuation of some 20,000 tourists. Days later, two air force pilots were killed when their water-dropping plane crashed while diving low to tackle a blaze on Evia. Another three wildfire-related deaths have been recorded this summer.
Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed to this report