Page last updated at 01:49 GMT, Monday, 24 August 2009 02:49 UK

Fighting the flames north of Athens

By Kate Forbes
BBC News, Athens

Wildfires at Kitheronas, west of Athens
In the distance, the flames look like candles

It's midnight and in the central square of Anoixi, a suburb of northern Athens it's like the rush hour.

It's hot and the air is thick. Fire engines reverse up to be refuelled, army lorries move supplies and Red Cross vehicles tip out small bunches of yawning, dirty-faced doctors.

This is a re-fuelling stop for the fire and rescue services which are battling the forest fires that are now within 19km (12 miles) of the centre of the Greek capital, Athens.

So far it's estimated that 30,000 acres of land, including houses, have been destroyed.

Up close

From vantage points further up the road in Stamata, you can see the fires creeping up the hill across the valley.

At first it was a little scary, but then you realise there is no time to think - you've acted to help before you've had time to be scared
Dimitris Theaharis
Military conscript

The distance makes four-metre (12-foot) flames look like candles flickering in the wind. However, up close the reality is very different.

George Peppas, a resident, described trying to save his neighbours' houses: "It was frightening. We couldn't see each other for the smoke, and we fell on the fire trying to beat it out and extinguish the flames, with shovels and even with our hands to try and save the house".

With his wife and his neighbours, they managed to save two of the houses from burning down - one of many small but important victories against the flames.

Safety first

Others have not been so lucky.

Dimitris Theaharis with another conscript at scene of Greek fires
Conscripts are joining in the battle to control the fires

Around 10,000 people are estimated to have been evacuated from the area.

Many have had to leave their houses to burn and not all of them willingly. 

Nicos Gaggios, a paramedic, has had the job of helping or getting people out. 

"Of course it's very difficult," Nicos said.

"They have to choose between their properties and their lives. And it's very difficult to decide. Our aim is to help them get out, and to protect the house - but if you have to choose, it's safety first, life first".

No time to think

So what's it like facing a fire for the first time?

Military service is mandatory in Greece, and in the square of Anoixi several fresh-faced conscripts stood around comparing experiences, dirty surgical masks around their necks.

Dimitris Theaharis is 23.

He rescued four people from a house around 50 metres away from where we were standing.

"People were running and crying. At first it was a little scary, but then you realise there is no time to think - you've acted to help before you've had time to be scared," said Dimitris.

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