Greece requests EU help with raging forest fires

Greece requests EU help with raging forest fires

26 August 2011

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Greece — Greek firefighters were battling at least seven large wildfires early Friday from the Turkish border to the outskirts of Athens, and the country asked its European partners to help out by sending in water-dropping planes.

The civil protection authority said it had asked for six aircraft, and Spain and France responded by offering two planes each that are expected to arrive later Friday. Portugal and Italy were also expected to contribute.

The authority said it was forced to seek help due to the large number of forest blazes across Greece _ about 90 broke out over the previous 24 hours _ and the high risk of fire over the next few days when high winds will be scouring a countryside desiccated by months of summer heat.

Greece is in the grip of a major debt crisis, which has forced extensive government spending cuts over the past year and a half.

Two areas in the northeast and west of the country were declared in a state of emergency and a small village was evacuated as a precaution near the Turkish border, but the fire brigade said no damage to homes or injuries were recorded.

A brush fire that broke out late Thursday initially threatened outlying homes in the southern Athens suburb of Glyfada. More than 100 firefighters rushed to contain the blaze, which was whipped on by strong winds. The fire brigade said two outhouses and an unfinished house were damaged, while several front yards were scorched.

In the northeastern Evros area near Turkey, more than 300 firefighters, army conscripts and volunteers, assisted by nearly 50 fire engines, battled through the night to tame a huge forest blaze that had destroyed some 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres). Seven water-dropping aircraft that helped the fight were forced to withdraw after nightfall, as they are not operational in the dark.

The fire broke out Wednesday and was quickly spread by strong winds, forcing the evacuation of nine people from the tiny village of Kila. Police have arrested a local farmer suspected of accidentally starting the blaze when sparks from a faulty tractor exhaust set fire to tinder-dry undergrowth.

Another five large forest fires were burning on the western resort island of Zakynthos, near the western town of Messolonghi, Amfilochia and Aitoloakarnania in the west and the northwestern city of Ioannina. Authorities said inhabited areas were not directly threatened.

Summer forest blazes are common in Greece, and a terrible spate of wildfires four years ago laid waste to about 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) of forest in central and southern areas, killing 76 people.

The damage so far this year has been comparatively small, although a local fire brigade chief died fighting a blaze in the southern Peloponnese region this week.

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