Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Wildfire rages near Athens, thousands flee

Renee Maltezou and Dina Kyriakidou in Reuters: A huge wildfire fanned by strong winds cut a swathe of destruction near Athens on Sunday, burning houses, razing large patches of forest and sending thousands fleeing their homes, authorities said.

Efforts to fight the blaze from the air were suspended as night fell and the fire raged unchecked for a third day, testing state resources and the conservative government, which is facing the threat of an early election by March.

…Authorities said the fire had retreated from Athens suburbs and was burning mainly forest land, but winds remained strong and the danger for a flare-up was constant. "It will be a difficult night because everyone is exhausted," said Leonidas Kouris, governor of the eastern Attica region where a state of emergency was declared on Saturday. "We will keep fighting for another day," he told Greek TV.

…Many people abandoned communities around Athens overnight and some frantically tried to stop the flames reaching houses with garden hoses and tree branches.

"We are facing a great ordeal," said Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who took a helicopter tour of the afflicted area. "The fire department is making a superhuman effort." The handling of the fire, the biggest since Greece's worst wildfires in living memory killed 65 people over 10 days in 2007, will be crucial for his political fate….

The fires are near the Parthenon, shot by Thermos, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

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