Forest fires lay siege to Greek capital


Thousands of Greeks are in a battle to save their homes from being consumed by forest fires raging to the northeast of Athens.

Greek authorities have declared a state of emergency and the army has been mobilised to help protect the ancient capital.

However, the hot gale-force winds that hampered firefighters and helped spread the flames have died down giving the exhausted and stretched emergency services a chance to halt the destruction.

But weather watchers say the winds may well whip up again compounding the problems faced by the fire service.

The wildfires reached the walls of the Saint Ephrem monastery forcing the Monks to remove the remains of the saint.

Environmentalists claim the damage to date is huge with an estimated 120,000 hectares of virgin fir and prime forest laid to waste.

Help from fellow EU member states has begun to arrive. Italian aircraft are at work and more are expected from France and Cyprus.

The blaze broke out on Friday in the village of Grammatiko 40 kilometers outside the Greek capital and quickly spread to neighbouring villages.

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One thought on “Forest fires lay siege to Greek capital

  1. Firefighters waged a titanic effort to contain a massive fire lapping at Athens’ eastern suburbs after burning a 30-kilometer swathe through one of the Greek capital’s last forests.

    With aerial help expected from Italy, France and Cyprus, around 400 firefighters struggled through the night to contain the wildfire that has reached the residential suburbs of Agios Stefanos, Anthousa, Gerakas and Pallini where sporadic evacuations were under way.

    Around 12,000 hectares of land are believed to have been devastated according to officials’ early estimates and the blaze is feared to have damaged or destroyed scores of rural and summer homes.

    The fire started late on Friday in a rural area around 40km northeast of Athens, but strong winds pushed it back and forth across a forested area dotted with villages and greenhouses.

    Fireproof zones erected on Mount Penteli, the last barrier to the capital, failed to hold the flames late on Saturday when fire-fighting aircraft were withdrawn for the night, and authorities decided to protectively evacuate two childrens’ hospitals, a summer camp and a private psychiatric clinic.

    ”This is a very significant environmental disaster, perhaps the gravest in recent years,” the prefect of the greater eastern Athens area Leonidas Kouris told ANT1 television.

    ”We face a great ordeal,” Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said late Saturday after visiting the fire department operations centre, adding that fire crews were mounting a ”superhuman” effort.

    The wildfire on Saturday also burned around Marathon, one of the agricultural areas feeding the capital and the main source of its water supply, and led authorities to relocate missiles and ammunition from a military camp.

    The blaze evoked memories of a 2007 wave of wildfires that killed 77 people and destroyed thousands of hectares of forest across the country.

    No casualties have been reported so far from the fire which broke out near an area earmarked for a waste disposal facility.

    With temperatures frequently running above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) and seasonal strong winds, Greece is particularly vulnerable to summer fires that ravage forest and agricultural land.

    Other fires continued to burn on the central Aegean islands of Skyros and Evia and the Ionian island of Zakynthos, which has been hit by repeated blazes this summer.

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