Residents Flee as Wildfire Shuts Highway Into Athens

Residents Flee as Wildfire Shuts Highway Into Athens

23 July 2008

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Greece — A forest fire scorched northern suburbs of Athens on Wednesday, sending residents fleeing from their homes and closing one of the main highways into the Greek capital, officials and witnesses said.

Seven aircraft and 25 fire trucks fought to control the blaze as witnesses reported flames had reached the gardens of houses in Kryoneri, on the outskirts of Athens, reviving memories of deadly forest fires which swept Greece last year.

Police officials said no houses had been burnt so far, although some outbuildings had been damaged.

State television showed the main national highway into northeast Athens empty of vehicles, as orange flames licked through the brush and grey smoke swept across the road.

“We have cut off traffic … on the national highway near the fire front,” Kostas Koumandanos, head of traffic police for the Attica region surrounding Athens, told state television.

A Reuters photographer in Kryoneri said dozens of residents were fleeing their homes as the flames approached.

Hundreds of wildfires have hit Greece already this year as summer temperatures have soared. A record heatwave last August sparked a 10-day inferno in southern Greece which killed 65 people.

Environmental groups have criticised the conservative New Democracy government for not doing enough to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy. The government insists it has taken the necessary precautions.

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