Greece — Firefighters have waged a titanic effort to contain a massive fire in Athens’ eastern suburbs that scorched a 30-kilometre swathe through one of the Greek capital’s last forests.
With aerial help expected from Italy, France and Cyprus, around 400 firefighters struggled through the night to contain the wildfire that has reached the residential suburbs of Agios Stefanos, Anthousa, Gerakas and Pallini where sporadic evacuations were underway.
The fire the worst since a series of infernos in 2007 that claimed 77 lives is also burning properties along Marathonos Avenue, one of the capital’s main highways, Gerakas mayorThanassis Zoutsos told NET television.
Clouds of smoke and ash covered the stricken suburbs where residents and army conscripts battled to halt the flames amid power and water supply cuts, and with strong winds reviving burning embers.
We have a gigantic mobilisation underway, fire department spokesmanYiannis Kapakis told reporters.
The situation is particularly difficult and the weather conditions are expected to be the same as yesterday, he said, noting that the fire department had been called to 85 conflagrations around the country over the last 24 hours.
Around 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) of land are believed to have been destroyed, according to officials’ early estimates and the blaze is feared to have damaged or destroyed scores of rural and summer homes.
Two people were admitted to hospital, one with burns and the other with a heart-related problem, state television NET reported.
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis called an emergency government meeting after overflying the scorched area in a helicopter.
We face a great ordeal, the prime minister said late Saturday after visiting the fire department operations centre, adding that fire crews were mounting a superhuman effort.
The fire started late on Friday in a rural area around 40 kilometres northeast of Athens, but strong winds pushed it back and forth across a forested area dotted with villages and greenhouses.
Fireproof zones erected on Mount Penteli, the last barrier to the capital, failed to hold the flames late on Saturday when fire-fighting aircraft were withdrawn for the night, and authorities decided to evacuate two childrens’ hospitals, a summer camp, a private psychiatric clinic and a retirement home.
This is a very significant environmental disaster, perhaps the gravest in recent years, the prefect of the greater eastern Athens area Leonidas Kouris told ANT1 television.
The European Commission on Sunday said it had activated the European Union’s civil protection process to help Greece.
Due to the extreme weather conditions and severe forest fires Greece Saturday evening activated the Community Mechanism for Civil Protection and requested assistance with aerial means, it said.
The wildfire also continued to burn north of Marathon, the main source of Athens’ water supply, and led authorities to relocate missiles and ammunition from a military camp.
With temperatures frequently running above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) and seasonal strong winds, Greece is particularly vulnerable to summer fires that ravage forest and agricultural land.
Other fires burned in the central Greek region of Viotia, on the Aegean islands of Skyros and Evia, and the Ionian island of Zakynthos. A new fire has meanwhile broke out in the Peloponnese peninsula.