BRITISH tourists holidaying in Greece have been warned to shelter indoors and switch off their air con as acrid black smoke chokes Athens from out-of-control wildfires.
More than a thousand firefighters are battling blazes which have swept through the island of Evia, north of the capital, which are being fuelled by strong winds and have forced the evacuation of four villages.
Officials in Greece said that a forest fire broke out in Evia, 70km northeast of the capital, in the early hours of this morning.
The UK Government has posted on its online travel advice page for Greece that authorities have issued a category 5 (red) wildfire alert as the blaze is "ongoing in the Psachna area of Evia and in the Corianthiakos Bay area of Thiva, north-west of Athens.
"Smoke from the fire on Evia is also affecting Athens.
"Local authorities have advised that anyone with breathing difficulties should remain indoors and switch off air-conditioning units."
Evia is second in size to Crete and has a mountainous interior, Aegean beaches and a popular spa in the town of Edipsos.
The country's civil protection authority declared a state of emergency in the area of Evia affected by the fire, where firefighters, volunteers, soldiers, six water-dropping planes and six helicopters were deployed, along with one more helicopter coordinating the air support.
On TV, Greek news stations have been showing thick, dark smoke blanketing the area, with ash falling miles away, blown by strong winds.
No fatalities have been reported but a volunteer firefighter who was burned on the island is recovering in a hospital in Athens.
Authorities have warned people in affected areas, particularly the elderly, young children and those suffering from breathing or heart conditions, to remain indoors and set air conditioning units to recycle indoor air.
Residents of the villages of Makrimalli, Kondodespoti, Stavros and Platanias have been relocated as a preventative measure.
Authorities recommended other people on the island of Evia that they should "stay indoors, close windows and doors and stay hydrated".
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that after Greece called on the European civil protection organisation for help, four firefighting planes were being sent from Croatia and Italy.
Cutting short his summer vacation to return to Athens, he added: "The conditions today are exceptionally difficult."
He thanked firefighters for their efforts and said the government's main concern was protecting human life.
A total of 56 forest fires broke out around the country in a 24-hour period spanning Monday night and Tuesday.
The Civil Protection Authority said that the blaze broke out shortly after 3am local time, and it spread rapidly through the dense pine forest because of strong winds.
According to some accounts, the wall of flames was 7miles (11km) long, fanned by strong, interchanging winds.
More than 300 people from the four villages were gradually evacuated during the day, many of whom were taken away on buses.
Villager Nikos Petrou said: "The fire trapped us at Makrimalli, and we had to leave quickly. As I was leaving, the fire was coming behind us."
Dozens more firefighters, two planes and a helicopter tackled a separate forest fire on the northern island of Thassos.
Another wildfire was burning through brush and dried weeds near Thebes, northwest of Athens.
More than 30 firefighters tackled flames scorching part of southern Greece.
Greece often faces wildfires during its dry summer months, and authorities have warned of the high risk of blazes this week.
Environmental campaigners see an increasing number of wildfires around the world as a symptom of global warming.
Last year, more than 100 people died when a fast-moving forest fire broke out in a seaside area northeast of Athens and raged through a nearby settlement of mainly holiday homes.
That fire trapped people in their cars as they tried to flee, while many other victims drowned as they tried to swim away from beaches overcome by heat and choking smoke.
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