Villagers Flee Fires Raging Outside Athens

Villagers Flee Fires Raging Outside Athens

17 July 2008

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Greece — Greek villagers fled their homes as hundreds of firefighters battled forest blazes that raged near the Greek capital Athens on Wednesday, reviving memories of last summer’s deadly wildfires.

As emergency services used planes and helicopters to bring two large fires near Athens under control, strong winds fanned a new blaze near the village of Markopoulo, some 40 km (25 miles) from the city of 5 million people.

Municipal authorities evacuated around 50 villagers as flames entered the village, while many others left behind their homes and possessions to flee.

“Things are getting worse at Markopoulo and we have reports of one or two houses being damaged,” a fire department official told Reuters.

Record temperatures last year sparked a 10-day inferno across southern Greece which killed 65 people and triggered a state of emergency in the Mediterranean country.

Environmental groups have accused Greece’s conservative government of failing to take sufficient steps to avoid another disaster this year. The New Democracy party government insists it is well prepared.

Near the industrial town of Aspropyrgos, 20 kilometres (12 miles) west of Athens, some 30 fire engines and two helicopters brought under control a fire which had threatened to cut off one of the main road arteries into Athens earlier on Wednesday.

At least four warehouses were damaged but no injuries were reported.

Fire officials blamed the blaze on local Roma who regularly burn off plastic-coated cabling and tyres from rubbish tips and collect the remaining wire and metals to sell for scrap.

Another fire, which began on Tuesday and had threatened a munitions factory outside Inoi in the Parnitha mountains near Athens, was also under control, fire officials said.

More than 100 separate fires were burning across the country, with firefighters battling blazes in central and northern Greece and the island of Andros, officials said.

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