Greek fire slows as winds abate

Firefighters say they have contained blaze threatening areas near Athens.

Officials say the fires have created 'an ecological disaster' [Reuters]
Officials say the fires have created 'an ecological disaster' [Reuters]

Barnaby Phillips, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Athens, said that there was “a sense of relief” in the city.

He said: “There is a sense that the very worst may have passed and that this enormous effort is beginning to reap results.”

However, Phillips said he had seen a weather report predicting strong winds in the next 24 hours.

Island fires

Earlier, over 500 firefighters, including a Cypriot contingent, had battled blazes east of the capital, fighting to save the communities of Daou Penteli and Nea Makri and attempting to prevent the fire from moving northwards.

In depth

Video: Thousands flee Greece fires

Gallery: Greece on fire

Water-bombers, including planes from Italy and France, have also been helping douse the flames.

The fires have threatened some of Greece’s most important archaeological sites including the ancient Athenian fortress of Rhamnous and an area near Marathon, the site of one of history’s most famous battlegrounds.

Fire crews managed to save the Pantokrator Monastery, which was founded in the mid-14th century, from being burned down after the nuns occupying it refused to evacuate.

The blaze has also brought havoc to some of the country’s tourist retreats, including the Ionian resort island of Zante and Skyros, an island in the Aegean Sea.

Spyros Zagaris, the mayor of Marathon, was among several local leaders who have accused the government of having no plan to fight the fire.

But Yiannis Papathanassiou, the finance minister, said it was “not the time for criticism”.

“We are fighting a difficult fight,” he said.

Political points

The handling of the fire, the biggest in Greece since a 10-day inferno in 2007 killed 65 people, will be crucial for the government of Costas Karamanlis, the prime minister, as it gears up for an election by March.

The handling of the fire will be crucial for the government of Costas Karamanlis [EPA]

Many in Greece are upset at the government’s response to a situation that has become familiar to many Greeks, with residents in some affected areas, saying firefighters and equipment were nowhere to be seen.

“Over the last day or so, some political opponents have been trying to score points,” Phillips said.

“Both from the far right and the far left, the refrain has been that the Greek government has learnt nothing since the fires of 2007.

“The recurrence of such a catastrophe so soon is bad news for the government. Having said that, I should say that the main opposition party, Pasok [the Panhellenic Socialist Movement] … has been relatively restrained.

“It’s said this is a national crisis and it is not the time yet for political points to be scored.”

The government, which is clinging to a one-seat majority in parliament, trails the socialist opposition in opinion polls.

Emergency declared

Greek authorities declared a state of emergency in and around Athens on Sunday, ordering at least 10,000 people to leave their homes as the fire, fanned by strong winds, swept through thousands of acres of forest near the capital.

Many people sprayed water throughout their properties [Reuters]

Despite the danger, some people refused to obey the evacuation order and leave their properties as the flames approached the suburbs of Aghios Stefanos, Anthoussa, Pallini, Pikermi and Dionyssos, Greek officials and witnesses said.

Many people sprayed water throughout their properties, cleared brush and beat embers with tree branches in an attempt to halt the fire.

There have been no reports of deaths or injuries yet, but scores of houses have been gutted and thousands of hectares of the area’s rapidly dwindling forests are gone.

Yiannis Sgouros, the Athens prefect, told Greek television that the fire was “an ecological disaster”.

“More than 120,000 stremmas [30,000 acres] have been burnt,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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