Greek firefighters continue to battle widespread blazes

Aircraft were mobilized Saturday to help firefighters battle a blaze northeast of Athens, Greece.
Greek firefighters planned to continue to work through the night to contain dozens of wildfires, including a massive blaze outside Athens, authorities said.

Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis called for calm on Saturday and said ground forces “will continue their superhuman efforts” until dawn, when air operations and water drops will resume. Authorities reported 75 fires across the country. “What I want to emphasize is the sacrifice of all those fighting under extremely difficult circumstances that complicate the task of fighting these fires,” he said in a statement. The fires began late Friday in Grammatiko, 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of the capital, said journalist Anthee Carassava. Wind whipped a single blaze into three fires, which joined again Saturday. No injuries were reported. Authorities mobilized units from the navy, air force and marines to assist the firefighters in Grammatiko, the state fire department said. “The fire is particularly complex given the weather, the large quantity of fuel, the terrain and the proximity of residential areas,” a statement from the fire department said. The fire zone was bounded roughly by the communities of Sesi, Varnavas and Grammatiko, according to the Athens News Agency. The cause of the original fire, which belched clouds of heavy dark smoke, was unknown, and officials were investigating, Carassava said. Forest and brush fires are common during Greece’s hot, dry summers. There were no official numbers Saturday on the extent of destruction, which including burned homes, some of which were vacation houses. It was hard to see in the fire zone because of the smoke. The fires were burning in a mostly rural area on the outskirts of Athens that is sparsely populated, Carassava said. Firefighters were attacking the main blaze along a front 12 kilometers (7 miles) long. The government declared a state of emergency and deployed more than 300 firefighters and soldiers to battle the blazes, she said. Officials said it was the worst fire on the mainland since forest fires in the same area burned in 2007, killing at least 65 people. Maria Stylianaki of Afidnes, just outside Athens, estimated the fire could be as close as two miles from her home. 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. Six firefighting aircraft were helping firefighters, according to the Athens News Agency. ANA said three wildfires were reported on the Ionian island of Zakynthos on Saturday, with some 300 hectares (740 acres) of forest burned so far. Carassava said 60 wildfires had been reported across Greece.