More than 90 wildfires have been burning in Greece since August 21, 2009, gutting homes and prompting the evacuation of thousands of people. The most dangerous fire was located near Athens, which started north of the Marathon plain and spread over Mount Penteli on the northern edge of the city. More than 37,000 acres (15,000 hectares) of land has been burned by wildfires located to the north of Athens, and around 2,000 firefighters have been deployed to battle the fires that were fuelled by strong winds and high temperatures.
Firefighting efforts are particularly focused on a blaze that started on August 23 in Viotia Prefecture, to the north of Athens, which is threatening northern suburbs of the Greek capital. A Greek government spokesman said firefighters have made good progress in battling the fires in the Athens area over the last 24 hours as the winds weakened. The spokesman added that several other fires have now been extinguished but Greece’s National Weather Service warned gale-force winds that could re-ignite the flames are expected to return later today before easing tomorrow.
The Greek government declared a state of emergency for the Athens area on August 22, as the fires destroyed dozens of homes and burned 37,000 acres of farmland and forest. Officials said the flames came within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of central Athens and reached the suburbs of Pallini, Pentali, Dionysus and Stamata. A government spokesman said no fatalities have been reported but around 20,000 residents in the affluent Athens suburb of Agios Stefanos were forced to evacuate as the flames threatened their homes. Local authorities also ordered residents in the coastal resort of Porto Germeno to flee while two hospitals, campsites and homes in other outlying suburban areas were evacuated. Police and witnesses said scores of homes were destroyed or heavily damaged.
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Reports said several fires were sparked on August 21 in the village of Grammatiko, near the town of Marathon, around 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Athens. Officials said the cause of the fires had not yet been determined and an investigation is underway. Fueled by winds of up to 40 mph (65 kmph) and temperatures of 40C (105F), the fires quickly spread southwards through forests over Mount Penteli and approached the Athens suburbs of Drafi, Pikemi and Pallini on August 23. Marathon, with important archaeological sites, and several nearby suburbs were encircled by flames but reports said the immediate threat to the towns has passed. There have been no firm estimates on the extent of the property damage as of yet, but Athens regional governor Yiannis Sgouros said damage assessments would be carried out once the fires were put out. He added the full damage extent would take days to estimate.
Seventeen water dropping aircraft, eight helicopters, 190 fire engines and about 2,000 firefighters and troops are fighting the fires, officials said. Assistance from Greece’s European Union allies has also started to arrive. Firefighting planes and helicopters from France, Italy and Cyprus were operating outside Athens, with more planes due to arrive from Spain and Turkey, officials said. Several other EU countries have also offered help, they added. At least five people were being treated for burns and several dozen had reported breathing problems. However, health ministry officials said no serious injuries were reported.
The wildfires are reported to be the worst to hit Greece since 2007, when a series of blazes killed more than 70 people and destroyed around 670,000 acres of land.
Sources: BBC News, CNN News, Associated Press, Associated Press, Agence France Presse, Reuters News
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