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Last Updated: Friday, 29 June 2007, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
Greek forest fire close to Athens
The flames on Mount Parnitha could be seen from Athens

Greek firefighters are battling a major forest fire which has threatened the suburbs of the capital, Athens.

The blaze, on the slopes of Mount Parnitha, is being contained, officials say, but a huge plume of black smoke is towering over the city.

Electricity pylons, exploding after a record heatwave, have sparked some of the fires, but arson is also suspected.

The fire near Athens is one of more than 100 blazes which have broken out across Greece in the last few days.

Overnight, residents of Athens could see the heavily-forested slopes of Mount Parnitha burning on the horizon.

On Friday morning, Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras said: "We have successfully handled a difficult task."

But he said the fight to extinguish the flames continued, and water-bombing aircraft and helicopters have resumed dousing the flames

'Lungs of Athens'

The strong winds fuelling the fire have dropped and firefighters have so far prevented the blaze from reaching the suburbs of Athens.

An air force radar station, a casino and a summer holiday camp on the mountain, 25km (16 miles) from Athens, have been evacuated.

"My area was spared, but unfortunately the forest is no longer there," the mayor of Thramakedones told Greek radio.

Fire on Mount Parnitha - 28/06/2007
About 120 fires have broken out across Greece, officials say
His village was one of the most at risk from the fire.

The forests of Mount Parnitha are popular with Athenians wanting to escape the heat of the city. They are considered the lungs of heavily-polluted Athens, reports the BBC's Malcolm Brabant.

More than 120 fires have broken out across the country in the last two days, but most of the them have been extinguished, officials say.

Eleven people have died in the nine-day heatwave, one of the longest recorded in Greece.

Most have died from heat stroke or heart attacks. On Thursday, two volunteer firefighters were trapped by flames and died of smoke inhalation in the centre of the country.

Temperatures have now dropped below 40C, after peaking at 46C earlier in the week, but forecasters say another heatwave is expected next week.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Fires raging on the slopes of Mount Parnitha



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