ATHENS – Firefighters managed to contain a blaze that swept through Athens’ eastern suburbs on Thursday, injuring six people, destroying dozens of homes and factories and temporarily threatening the prime minister’s seaside home.
After more than nine hours, close to 500 firefighters and soldiers, 80 fire trucks, eight airplanes and six helicopters got the blaze under control.
“The situation is good. There is no fire front any more and we are facing no major problem at the moment,” Civil Protection General Secretary Panayiotis Fourlas told reporters.
The blaze, that officials and locals blamed on arsonists, destroyed hundreds of acres of pine forest near the suburb of Rafina on its way to the populated coastal areas, forcing many residents to flee.
A second fire started nearby less than three hours later and quickly spread, fanned by strong winds.
Some residents, carrying babies and pets, sought refuge in remote monasteries and churches.
A local man extinguishes a burning forest as a fire plane sprays water in an Athens suburb July 28, 2005. A forest fire near Athens’ seaside suburbs burnt down homes and factories and threatened more damage as strong winds pushed it towards heavily inhabited coastal areas on Thursday, officials said. The blaze, believed to have been started near the eastern suburb of Rafina, swept through a thick pine forest before gathering speed and engulfing several houses.
Others, armed with water hoses and buckets, tried desperately to save their homes as 15-metre (45-feet) high flames raced toward them.
“This is arson. They are destroying everything I built my whole life,” a resident of Rafina told reporters in tears. “I now see my house burning down.”
At least six people, including two firefighters, were injured as they tried to contain the blaze that quickly gathered speed due to the winds and sizzling summer temperatures.
Authorities in eastern Athens had to evacuate houses, summer camps, psychiatric asylums and orphanages as the blaze spread, and urged Athenians who own houses in the area to stay away.
Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, whose private residence is in Rafina, met fire officials and inspected operations in the area. The area where his home is had been in path of the fire until the winds changed.
“We are proceeding well and I hope that the wind which has died down a bit will not change again,” deputy fire brigade chief Andreas Kois told reporters.
The wealthy area, 30 km (18.6 miles) east of the city centre, is scattered with small, green suburbs and thousands of holiday homes.
Athens International airport, which lies some 10 km away, shut its western runway and redirected flights to its eastern runway.