TORONTO - Concerned Greek-Canadians are burning Trans-Atlantic phone lines trying to get word of loved ones as angry flames from a raging wildfire lick at the northern suburbs of Athens.
"The phones have been ringing off the hook," said Jim Karygiannis, MP for Scarborough-Agincourt, who is in Greece on business.
Karygiannis, whose parents live just two kilometres from the fire lines and were on evacuation alert, could see the fire when he landed in Athens.
"There's a haze right over the Athenean sky. You can see the fires in the distance," he said in a phone interview from Athens. "People have been told to be ready to evacuate at a moment's notice. There's much concern."
Greek authorities have declared a state of emergency in Athens as the flames raged since Friday, destroying homes and forcing thousands to flee the blaze.
"It is life threatening and it is very close to homes," Karygiannis said. "It scares the living Jesus out of people out here."
The president of the Greek Community of Toronto, who is travelling through Greece and Cyprus over the next few days, also had calls pouring in from worried Canadians.
"They want to know what is happening, how serious it is ... they are concerned about their loved ones," said Costas Menegakis.
Menegakis said the rapidly spreading fire is bringing back vivid memories of the raging inferno that swept Greece in 2007, killing 70 people, an event that scarred many in his community.
With the entire region shrouded in black smoke, ash and debris, Menegakis said the dry weather and warm winds were not making things any easier for the firefighters.
"It's a very very frightening experience," he said by phone from Athens.
"People are struggling to save their belongings and homes, they're being caught in the middle of these areas and they're not being able to get out."
Menegakis said in addition to those originally from Greece, he was also getting calls from those with relatives who were vacationing in Athens.
He estimated about 100,000 tourists from North America, most of them seniors, were currently in the country.
"It's a time when they're here to enjoy themselves and they're having to endure a very difficult thing," he said.
The fires ignited late Friday and spread across an area more than 40 kilometres wide by Sunday. The flames began to burn in the mountains near the town of Marathon.
Elsewhere in Greece, serious fires were reported on the islands of Evia and Skyros in the Aegean Sea and Zakynthos in the west. Another large fire that started Saturday in the town of Plataea, 63 kilometres northwest of Athens, was spreading unchecked in western Attica.