Greece wildfires force thousands to evacuate

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Thousands of people in Greece have been forced to evacuate their homes after major wildfires continued for their third day in the suburbs outside of Athens.

10,000 people were evacuated out of one town, Agios Stefanos, located 23 kilometres from downtown Athens, after the flames headed for the area. All residents were ordered to take the main highway to Athens.

The deputy mayor of the town, Panayiotis Bitakos, told Skai TV that "I call on all residents to follow the instructions of the police as to where they will go. We had been begging the authorities since early in the morning to send forces [...] It is too late now. Too late."

Athens Prefect Yannis Sgouras told state NET TV that strong winds helped strengthen the fires, and caused extra difficulties for the firefighters trying to put out the blaze. He said that approximately 120 square kilometres have been burned so far.

"More than 120,000 stremmas [30,000 acres] have been burnt. It is an ecological disaster," he said.

In a televised speech on NET, the fire department spokesman Ioannis Kapakis stated that "the strength of the winds has increased and the situation remains particularly difficult.”

In total, 83 major fires were reported across Greece from 06.00 yesterday to 18.00 today.

No casualties have yet been reported, and no official property damage tally has yet been made, although Greek media have estimated tens of homes to have been damaged.

The fires are the worst in Greece since 2007, when heavy wildfires killed 77 people.