Weary but determined, crews battled to save homes as fires tore through suburb after suburb around Athens for a third day Sunday.
More than 600 firefighters and soldiers — aided by residents — used whatever was at their disposal to bring the blaze under control as the flames inched closer to the capital from the northeast edges of the city. “I have ashes on my desk but I’m not smoking. Penteli mountain is,” said Alexander Liaros, referring to the community in the Athens metropolitan area that was ablaze. So far, no injuries have been reported. But taking no chances, rescue personnel evacuated two children’s hospitals, summer camps, a monastery and senior-citizen homes early Sunday morning. The government declared a state of emergency. Watch as wildfires spread throughout Greece » Hundreds of people fled their homes in the Athens area, officials said. They could not, however, provide a definitive number. The fires broke out late Friday in Grammatiko, 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of the capital. But ever-shifting wind drove them through a rash of villages within hours. Authorities reported more than 80 fires across the country that burned down an undetermined number of houses. It is the worst destruction seen here since a deadly rash of blazes killed 65 people and razed thousands of hectares of forestland in 2007. Just when firefighters thought the blaze was showing signs of abating, gale force winds pumped up the flames once again Sunday. A fleet of firebombers took off at daybreak to resume water drops. On the ground, residents used buckets of water, fire extinguishers and water hoses to fight a losing battle with the blaze. Italy and France would each be sending two water-bombers, said Yannis Kalpakis, a fire department spokesman. Cyprus was also due to send a helicopter. “The assistance follows a request that Greece made yesterday to the European Union,” Kalpakis told reporters. The cause of the original fire, which belched clouds of heavy dark smoke, was unknown, and officials were investigating. Forest and brush fires are common during Greece’s hot, dry summers.
Maria Stylianaki of Afidnes, just outside Athens, estimated the fire could be as close as two miles from her home. iReport.com: See aircraft combat fire in Greece “I’m looking at the flames right now and it’s very difficult. The planes, it looks like they have stopped flying. I can see some helicopters trying to maintain the line of the fire,” she said Saturday in an iReport to CNN.