Forest fires rage on either side of Athens; at least 3 dead

Greece has declared a state of emergency and is requesting assistance from the European Union after forest fires forced people to flee the outskirts of the capital Athens.

One fire is burning northeast of Athens in the Penteli area, where at least six people were taken to hospital after suffering burns, said fire service spokeswoman Stavroula Malliri.

The fire department said 80 firefighters with 40 vehicles were on the scene near the seaside settlement of Kineta, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Athens between the capital and Corinth, while seven water-dropping planes and four helicopters were helping from the air.

"We are dealing with something completely asymmetric", Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, looking pale, said after cutting short a visit to Bosnia. Two people died on a motor bike in what appeared to be a traffic queue heading to the safe haven of a nearby beach.

A firefighter wears a flame resistant uniform as wildfire burns in the town of Rafina, near Athens, Greece, on Mon., July 23, 2018.

There was no official figure on how many people were evacuated overall. The coast guard sent five vessels to rescue people trapped on nearby beaches by the flames. One TV channel said eight bodies were being transferred by boat to the port of Rafina, near Mati.

In the first fire, west of the capital near Kineta, three communities were evacuated and the blaze shut down a almost 20-kilometer (13-mile) section on two highways linking the Peloponnese with central Greece.

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Rafina Mayor Vangelis Bournous said he believed about 100 houses in the area had been burned.

Thick smoke has led to main highways being shut down, while an orange haze has settled on the city.

A clip from Greek TV station Skai (see below) shows the Monday wildfire in Kineta burning residents' yards as they fled in cars and on mopeds.

Scores of homes are thought to have been damaged or destroyed by the fire, and some residents used hosepipes to try and douse the flames as police helped others to evacuate.

A man looks at the flames as a wildfire burns in the town of Rafina, near Athens, Greece, on Mon., July 23, 2018.

Wildfires are not uncommon in Greece, but a relatively dry winter has created tinderbox conditions.

Firefighters also battled other fires around the country: on Crete, in the northern town of Soufli and near Corinth. "Those fires are not so innocent", he said, noting that a fire had broken out in Kineta on Sunday night in a spot close to yesterday's blaze. The worst by far occurred in 2007, when large swaths of southern Greece burned, killing more than 60 people.

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