August 23, 2009 in Nation/World

Thousands evacuate as fires reach Athens area

Demetris Nellas Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

A woman tries to extinguish a fire as a house burns at the village of Varnavas near the town of Marathon, 25 miles northeast of Athens, on Saturday.
(Full-size photo)

ATHENS, Greece – A massive wildfire tore through outlying suburbs north of Athens early today, destroying homes and forcing thousands to flee in dramatic overnight evacuations, Fire Service and local officials said.

The fires near the capital raged for a third day, blackening thousands of acres of rugged land covered by pine forest or thick bushes. Anti-aircraft missiles at a nearby base were removed as flames approached, the army said.

“The situation is tragic. Fires are out of control on many fronts,” greater Athens local governor Yiannis Sgouros said.

A state of emergency was declared in greater Athens, in the worst destruction seen here since massive fires struck southern Greece in 2007 and killed more than 70 people.

After daybreak, planes and helicopters resumed water drops following an eight-hour pause that allowed the wildfire to spread across parts of Mount Penteli and reach suburban homes. Clouds of black smoke filled the capital’s skyline and obscured the sun.

Authorities evacuated two large children’s hospitals, camp sites and homes in villages and outlying suburban areas threatened by blazes.

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