20240619 koropi
A man walks in an area burned during a wildfire, in Kitsi, near the town of Koropi, Greece. Image Credit: Reuters

Athens: A fire near Athens fanned by strong winds and high temperatures has led to the evacuation of two villages, Greek authorities said Wednesday, pointing the finger at arsonists.

The fire triggered the deployment of 145 firefighters, 45 vehicles, six aeroplanes and 11 helicopters to the site, some 30 kilometres (19 miles) southeast of the capital.

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Two villages and three private schools near the small town of Koropi were evacuated as a precaution, authorities said, with traffic cut off in the vicinity.

"Fire spread rapidly in the area due to very strong winds with gusts that reached force eight on the Beaufort scale," equal to gale speeds of 62 to 74 kilometres per hour, fire department spokesman Vassilis Vathrakogiannis told the press.

He said the service was seeing fires break out "almost every 10 minutes" in the heat, while adding that most had been quickly brought under control.

But climate crisis and civil protection minister Vassilis Kikilias said the fire near Athens was of criminal origin and not caused "solely by weather conditions".

"The fire department and police investigating authorities have visual material clearly showing a man lighting a fire in dry grass," he added at a press briefing.

With temperatures reaching 37 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Attica region surrounding the capital, Greece's civil protection services warned of a "very high" fire risk Wednesday and Thursday in several parts of the country.

Firefighters are battling blazes on five fronts on the Peloponnese peninsula, on the Aegean island of Lesbos, in Preveza, in Larissa and near Thessaloniki, according to the authorities.

Regularly hit by searing summer temperatures, Greece experienced what meteorologists said was its earliest heatwave in recorded history last week.

In 2023, the Mediterranean country experienced a two-week heatwave unprecedented in its duration that was followed by devastating wildfires.

The flames consumed nearly 175,000 hectares (432,000 acres) of forest and farmland, according to the National Observatory of Athens.

Scientists warn that human-induced fossil fuel emissions are worsening the length, frequency and intensity of heatwaves across the world.

The rising temperatures are leading to longer wildfire seasons and increasing the area burnt in the flames, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.