Greek firefighters get respite


A firefighting helicopter drops water on a forest fire in the Athens suburb of Dionissii on sunday.
Gentler winds Monday morning gave firefighters in Greece some room to breathe, but the respite was only temporary.

Gale-force winds are expected to pick up later Monday, once again re-igniting flames and a race to contain them before they reach the capital, Athens. For a fourth day, a fleet of aircraft took off at daybreak to resume water drops as flames licked the northern outskirts of the capital. From above, the suburbs emitted an orange glow as at least 90 wildfires burned since Friday, devouring hundreds of homes and 15,000 hectares. No fatalities had been reported, but four people had suffered minor burns, Information Secretary Panos Livadas said. As a precaution, 20,000 residents of the Athens suburb Agios Stefanos were evacuated Sunday. An additional 10,000 stayed behind, putting up a desperate defense of their properties. Watch as thousands evacuate their homes in Athens »

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The government of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has declared a state of emergency, and rescue workers evacuated two children’s hospitals, summer camps, a monastery and senior-citizen homes early Sunday. The fires broke out late Friday in Grammatiko, 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of the capital. Ever-shifting winds drove them through a cluster of villages within hours. iReporter films battle to stop fires » Other nations were sending help. Italy has sent two water-drop airplanes. France also sent two, and another two were expected on Monday. Cyprus was sending a helicopter. Greece requested help from the European Union on Saturday, officials said. iReport.com: See aircraft combat fire in Greece

The cause of the original fire, which belched clouds of heavy, dark smoke, was unknown, and officials were investigating. It is the worst destruction seen in Greece since a rash of blazes killed 65 people and razed thousands of hectares of forestland in 2007.

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