Forest fire outside Athens causes power outages, sends smoke over city

Forest fire outsideAthens causes power outages, sends smoke over city

25 June 2008

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Greece — A large forest fire on the outskirts of Athens was abating lateWednesday after causing power outages across the Greek capital and sending alarge cloud of smoke over the city.

The blaze on Mount Hymettus damaged a major power line, causing blackouts formore than an hour in central Athens and several other parts of the city. Itdestroyed at least 100 hectares of pine forest but did not threaten any homes.

The Fire Service said 13 planes and four helicopters had been sent to helpfight the blaze which broke out in the Glyka Nera area, some 20 kilometres eastof Athens. More than 150 firefighters, assisted by 100 soldiers, took part inthe effort.

Glyka Nera mayor Giorgos Siokos said he believed arsonists started the fire.

“The fire started in broad daylight. I think it was arson. Land-grabbershave targeted this area many times in the past,” Siokos said.

Rogue developers are often blamed for setting fires to clear trees nearpopulated areas in Greece, where illegal home construction is rampant.

Fire Service officials said efforts to put out the fire were going well. FireService spokesman Yiannis Kapakis said fires had been contained on the nearbyisland of Aegina and at Agios Stephanos, north of Athens.

Civil protection agency chief Margaritis Mouzas said a drop in winds hadhelped firefighters.

“This area is patrolled constantly and the response was immediate …The forecast was that winds would drop and fortunately this appears to be thecase,” Mouzas said.

The Fire Service said it received more than 250 calls to free people trappedin elevators in Athens due to power cuts caused by the blaze.

Fires last year ravaged a nature reserve north of Athens and killed 76 peoplethroughout Greece, destroying about 2,000 square kilometres of forest, farmlandand olive groves in August alone.

In efforts to prevent a repeat of the devastating fires this year, the FireService has boosted its air fleet and seasonal firefighting personnel.

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