The fire chief has urged residents to “just leave.”
Wildfires that ignited Monday near Athens, Greece, have killed more than 20 people and hospitalized nearly 70, according to the Associated Press, as hundreds of firefighters and first responders struggled to contain the blazes and evacuate residents.
The Greek government has declared a state of emergency and asked the European Union for aid.
The fires broke out on both sides of Athens, in the pine forests to the west of the city and in coastal towns to the northeast. By early evening, the skies over the Parthenon had turned orange from the smoke.
It’s not yet clear what caused the fires, but a dry winter has left much of the area vulnerable, and strong winds Monday have fanned the flames.
The voluminous smoke prompted the closure of a major highway, and officials have urged immediate evacuation of affected areas.
“People should leave, close up their homes and just leave. People cannot tolerate so much smoke for so many hours,” senior fire chief Achilleas Tzouvaras said, according to Reuters. “This is an extreme situation.”
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has returned early from a trip to Bosnia to preside over the government’s response to the emergency.