clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

People flee as fire threatens villages near Athens

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Dozens of wildfires broke out across Greece, torching olive groves, cutting off villages and sending residents fleeing Saturday as one of the largest blazes swept perilously close to the capital's northern suburbs.

Fanned by high winds, the fires have stretched the state's resources thin as firefighters tried to extinguish at least half a dozen major conflagrations.

"A total of 65 fires have broken out across Greece since late (Friday)," fire brigade spokesman Yiannis Kalpakis said.

The government declared a state of emergency Saturday for the region of Attica and warned that continuing winds made it likely more fires would break out over the weekend.

"We urge residents to remain calm and follow our instructions," Kalpakis said.

Flames raced toward the villages of Grammatiko, Kalentzi and Varnavas near the town of Marathon, 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of the Greek capital, cutting the villages off from the road. Residents and volunteers tried desperately to prevent the blaze from engulfing houses. Some homes were seen burning, but it has not yet been possible to assess the extent of the damage.

No casualties had been reported as of 7 p.m. local time (1600 GMT).

Scores of residents fled on foot, by motorbike and in cars. Some were seen running down the road away from the flames.

"We keep sending in more planes, helicopters and ground vehicles. Volunteers constantly arrive with more vehicles. The Army is also involved in (trying to contain) the fires," Kalpakis said.

In the afternoon, the blaze got close to the Athens suburbs of Rodopolis and Stamata, on the other side of Mt. Penteli from where it originated. No homes in these areas have been threatened yet, but firefighters have been unable to stop the fire's progress.

The wildfire was made harder to contain by constantly shifting winds, which sometimes reached gale force.

The fire is burning in a pine forest in the hills above Marathon. It has already torched nearby olive groves.

The Greek Army confirmed that HAWK anti-aircraft missiles had been evacuated from a base near Marathon.

The fire started Friday on the mountainside above Grammatiko. By early Saturday, it was contained in a ravine but then the strong winds spread the flames down the mountain and onto the surrounding plain.

High winds across Greece helped fan other fires, notably on the Aegean island of Skyros and on the western island of Zakynthos, where about 300 hectares (750 acres) have burned. There is a further uncontrolled blaze on the island of Evia.

Prevailing high winds and the dry climate result in hundreds of wildfires across Greece every summer, although most of them burn out or are contained before they spread too far. The country, and especially the Peloponnese peninsula in the south, was devastated by a series of fires in late August 2007 that burned a total of 268,000 hectares (660,000 acres) that killed 63 people, destroyed entire villages and threatened the site of Ancient Olympia.