TATOI, Greece — Thousands of people fled their homes north of Athens on Tuesday as a wildfire broke out of the forest and reached residential areas. The hurried evacuations took place just as Greece grappled with its worst heat wave in decades.
The blaze sent a huge cloud of smoke over Athens and prompted multiple evacuations near Tatoi, 12 1/2 miles to the north. Residents left their homes in cars and on motorcycles, heading toward the capital amid a blanket of smoke.
“It is a large fire and it will take a lot of work to get this under control,” greater Athens regional governor George Patoulis told state-run ERT television. “The foliage is very dense in these areas and it is very dried out due to the heat wave, so the conditions are difficult.”
As the flames approached their homes, residents were seen running to their cars, faces covered with dampened cloths to protect them from the heavy smoke. One group stopped to help staff from a riding school push their horses into trucks to escape the flames.
As the heat wave scorching the eastern Mediterranean intensified, temperatures reached 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 Fahrenheit) in parts of the Greek capital. The extreme weather has fueled deadly wildfires in Turkey and blazes in Italy, Greece, Albania and across the region.
Wildfires also raged in other parts of Greece, prompting evacuations in a coastal area of the southern Peloponnese region as well as on the islands of Evia and Kos, authorities said.
The fires prompted Greek basketball star Giannis Antetokounmpo to cancel celebrations planned in Athens for the NBA championship he won recently with the Milwaukee Bucks.
“We hope there are no victims from these fires and of course we will postpones today’s celebration,” Antetokounmpo wrote in a tweet.
Earlier, authorities closed the Acropolis and other ancient sites during afternoon hours. The site, which is normally open in the summer from 8 am to 8 pm, will have reduced hours through Friday, closing between midday and 5 pm.
The extreme heat, described by authorities as the worst in Greece since 1987, has strained the national power supply and fueled the wildfires.
Five water-dropping planes and five helicopters were involved in the firefighting effort near Athens, including a Beriev Be-200 amphibious aircraft leased from Russia. The blaze damaged electricity pylons, adding further strain on the electricity network already under pressure due to the widespread use of air conditioning.
The Greek Fire Service maintained an alert for most of the country for Tuesday and Wednesday, while public and some private services shifted operating hours to allow for afternoon closures.