RHODES, Greece (AP) — Wildfires reached the outskirts of Athens on Thursday as strong gusts of wind caused flare-ups around Greece, disrupting highway traffic and rail services.
The fires have raged across parts of the country during three successive Mediterranean heat waves over two weeks, leaving five people dead, including two firefighting pilots, and triggering a huge evacuation of tourists over the weekend on the island of Rhodes.
Water-dropping helicopters and a ground crew scrambled early Thursday to a blaze in Kifissia, just north of Athens, which was quickly put out.
Near the central city of Volos, a wildfire burned on two fronts, forcing a section of Greece’s busiest highway to close for several hours, while national rail services passing through the area were delayed.
Firefighters also battled flames on Rhodes for a 10th successive day, while flare-ups were reported on the island of Evia.
Wildfire carbon emissions for July in Greece were the highest by a huge margin — totaling over 1 metric megaton and doubling the previous record — since records started 20 years ago, according to the European Union agency that analyzes satellite data, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.
“Unfortunately, it is not all that surprising, given the extreme conditions in the region,” said Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the agency. “The observed intensity and estimated emissions show how unusual the scale of the fires have been for July relative to the last 20 years of data.”
In Athens, senior members of the armed forces paid tribute to the two pilots killed in a firefighting plane crash this week, at a ceremony held at the Defense Ministry.
Cpt. Christos Moulas and Lt. Pericles Stephanidis died during a low-altitude water drop on the island of Evia.
Defense Minister Nikos Dendias said the operators had shown “self-denial in the line of duty.”
“Greece today is in mourning. Their memories will live on,” Dendias said.
Funeral services for the two airmen will be held in northern Greece later Thursday and on the island of Crete on Friday. ___
Gatopoulos reported from Athens. Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
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