Greek wildfire threatens summer camp

2012-07-19 21:17
A firefighting helicopter sprays water on a forest fire near southwest of Athens. (Giota Korbaki, AFP)

A firefighting helicopter sprays water on a forest fire near southwest of Athens. (Giota Korbaki, AFP)

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Athens - Greek authorities evacuated a children's summer camp, a retirement home and a monastery near Athens on Thursday as a wildfire swept through forest land, damaging at least five homes. The blaze was one of several dozen reported in the country over the past two days.

Greece's fire brigade said two people were lightly injured in the wildfire near the town of Keratea, some 40km southeast of the capital. One man suffered burns, while a motorcyclist was hit by a burning electricity pole.

Officials said 300 children were evacuated as a precaution from the camp, and an unspecified number of people from the retirement home and the monastery.

More than 170 fire fighters, assisted by seven water-dropping planes and two helicopters, managed to bring the blaze under partial control by late on Thursday.

The cause of the fire was not immediately clear, but such blazes are common in the hot, dry summer months. More than 60 people were killed when forest fires devastated southern Greece in 2007.

Another two fires were burning through the islands of Zakynthos in the west of Greece and Crete in the south, but inhabited areas were not under threat, the fire brigade said.

Nearly 80 wildfires were reported over the past two days across the country, and least six villages were evacuated Wednesday in southern Greece and Crete. The fires follow a weeklong heat wave, during which temperatures reached 43°C.

The latest blazes come as half of debt-crippled Greece's vital fleet of firefighting planes was grounded due to maintenance difficulties. Fire brigade spokesperson Nikos Tsongas said 11 of the 21 air tankers were out of action.

Greece's new coalition government warned earlier this week that steep budget cuts had hurt the country's fire-fighting effort, and requested assistance from the European Union's civil protection mechanism.

Tsongas said Spain and Italy, facing their own outbreak of wildfires, would have difficulties in making planes available to Greece, while other countries in the EU mechanism were being considered.

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