Crew scramble to tame Greek fires


A firefighting plane sprays water on Pendeli mountain in Dionissos in a suburb of Athens on Sunday. AFP

Six major fires were burning on Monday across Greece, including blazes on the islands of Evia and Skyros in the Aegean Sea and Zakynthos in the west. But the most dangerous was the fire near Athens.

The massive wildfires broke out on Friday and have razed about 58 square miles of forest and brush, damaged or destroyed scores of homes and forced thousands to flee outlying areas of Athens.

At first light on Monday, 17 water-dropping planes and helicopters swooped over flames near populated areas, trying to knock down the fire before the stronger winds expected later in the day. At least five people were being treated for burns and several dozen had reported breathing problems, but no injuries were serious, Health Ministry officials said.

“There are some signs of optimism but no letting up of the firefighting effort. We have a chance to contain this nightmare that has burned the city’s main forest area,” Athens regional governor Yiannis Sgouros said. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis toured the affected area on Sunday, amid criticism of his government’s response to the emergency.

Thousands of people fled the fire-striken areas over the weekend, many on foot because fires closed nearby roads. But government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros said the number of people involved in state-organised evacuations was “limited” and most have now returned to their homes.

Up to 2,000 firefighters, soldiers and volunteers are involved in fighting fires stretching more than 50 kilometres northeast of Athens. Aircraft have been sent from France, Italy and Cyprus, with more help expected from other countries.

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