Page last updated at 17:02 GMT, Monday, 24 August 2009 18:02 UK

Wind lull aids Greek firefighters


Fires continue to burn near Athens after night fall

A lull in strong winds has given a boost to Greek firefighters battling dozens of wildfires across the country.

Fires are still threatening areas north of Athens and several Greek islands, but firefighters say the area under their control is growing.

Thousands of residents of the capital's northern suburbs were forced to leave their homes as dozens of houses and large areas of forest were burnt.

Italian and French planes have been helping douse the flames.

Nearly 2,000 firefighters, including a Cypriot contingent, and soldiers have been engaging the blaze on the ground, together with hundreds of volunteers.

Video map: How fires in Greece have spread

Fires flare overnight in Greece

Greek firefighters battle wildfires that threaten areas north of Athens, as thousands leave their homes.

Amateur video of smoke 'blanket'

Raging wildfires threatening Athens have been described as the region's worst-ever environmental disaster.

'Smoke was blocking out the sun'

Major wildfires north-east of the Greek capital Athens are burning out of control, officials have said.

Fleeing from raging Athens fires

The BBC's Malcolm Brabant tells his first-hand account of escaping wildfires in the Athens suburbs.

Greek fires rage into the night

Wildfires outside Athens rage into the night - the worst blazes on the mainland since 2007, officials say.

Click video icons to see reports from affected communities near Athens. The fires began to the north-east, near Grammatiko, on Friday, before being driven closer to the capital by strong winds.

The BBC's Malcolm Brabant in the area says many of the fires had now been put out.

A fire department spokesman in northern Attica prefecture, where thousands of hectares of land have been burnt, said there were some encouraging signs.

"The intensity of the fire is weakening and the area under our control is growing," Yiannis Kapakis told the AFP news agency.


Local media said the most ominous fire on Monday afternoon was on Mount Kithaironas in Attica prefecture, north-west of the capital.

Malcolm Brabant, BBC correspondent, Athens
Malcolm Brabant, BBC News, near Athens

The environmental cost of the fires is pretty grim.

They have not been as enormous as those in 2007, but they have further eroded the greenery on the outskirts of Athens.

The trees act as the lungs of the city, providing oxygen and cooling the winds down. Their loss means a vicious cycle of a warmer city and more forest fires.

It is very depressing. This area, to the northeast of Athens, used to be like an Alpine scenery and now looks like a moonscape.

The authorities have ordered the immediate evacuation of the nearby coastal resort of Porto Germeno.

Fires are also burning on the Aegean Sea islands of Evia and Skyros and on the island of Zakynthos, on the west of the mainland.

The town of Marathon, with important archaeological sites, was encircled by fires but appears to have been spared.

Reports say nuns had to be evacuated from an Orthodox monastery near the seaside resort of Nea Makri, as firemen fought to save the compound from encroaching fires.

"The flames were 30m (100ft) high. Thankfully they came and rescued us," one of the nuns told AP.

More than 90 fires are thought to have started since Saturday and more than 37,000 acres of land have been burnt. A state of emergency has been declared in the Athens region.

On Monday, a regional Athens governor, Yiannis Sgouros said there were "some signs of optimism" but that there would be no let-up in the firefighting efforts.

But while no casualties have been reported, Mr Sgouros has called the fires an "ecological disaster".

Arson claim

The government has dismissed accusations by some officials that it was slow to respond to the crisis and send assistance.

Resident tackle a fire in Dioni, Greece (24 August 2009)

Government spokesman Panos Livadas told the BBC the fact that no lives had been lost was proof of the efficiency of the operation.

Meanwhile the leader of the Communists (KKE), Aleka Papariga, has alleged there was a well-organised conspiracy to clear the area for property development. Previous fires in Greece have been blamed on arsonists intent on clearing land.

The fires began late on Friday in Grammatiko, near Marathon. They are the worst since those in 2007 which killed about 70 people.

In July, dozens of fires burnt through thousands of hectares of land in other parts of Greece, Spain, France and Italy.

According to the conservation group Greenpeace, heat waves and drier conditions are leading to larger and more uncontrollable forest fires across the whole Mediterranean region.

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In pictures: Greek wildfires
24 Aug 09 |  In Pictures
Fighting the flames north of Athens
24 Aug 09 |  Europe
Fleeing from raging Athens fires
23 Aug 09 |  Europe
Wildfires break out across Greece
22 Aug 09 |  Europe
Mediterranean fires still burning
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