24 Aug 2009

Wildfires still threatening Greek capital

10:35 pm on 24 August 2009

Fire fighters in Greece are facing another day battling wildfires still threatening areas north of Athens.

Thousands of residents of the capital's northern suburbs were forced to leave their homes as dozens of houses and large areas of forest were burnt.

But a Greek government spokesman said the immediate danger had passed and the BBC reports said many of the fires had now been put out.

Aircraft from several countries are dropping water on the fires.

Planes are flying over constantly on Monday as they battle the remaining fires, and winds are not as powerful as they were on previous days.

Efforts are being focused on a fire started on Sunday in Viotia prefecture, to the north of Athens, local media say. Fires in Attica, another prefecture to the north, are now partly under control.

The town of Marathon, with important archaeological sites, was encircled by fires but appears to have been spared.

Reports say nuns had to be evacuated from an Orthodox monastery near the seaside resort of Nea Makri, as firemen fought to save the compound from encroaching fires.

More than 90 fires are thought to have started since Saturday and more than 37,000 acres of land have been burnt.

While no casualties have been reported, a regional Athens governor, Yiannis Sgouros, has called the fires an "ecological disaster".

The fires are the worst since those in 2007 which killed about 70 people.

In July, dozens of fires burnt through thousands of hectares of land in other parts of Greece, Spain, France and Italy.