Dozens of wildfires were reported in Greece over the weekeend with the most serious one still blazing in the early afternoon northeast of the greater Athens area, between Lake Marathon and some semi-rural communities.
Fire brigade spokesman Yiannis Kalpakis said that more than 60 fires have broken out across the country in the past 24 hours.
The sudden eruption of simultaneous wildfires amid almost gale force winds in the country mobilized Greece’s state apparatus, including the armed forces
.Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis arrived at the fire brigade’s operational headquarters early Saturday afternoon to oversee emergency fire-fighting efforts.
“Our first priority is protection of human life, as well as citizens’ property,” Karamanlis said in brief statements at the fire brigade command centre. “What I would also like to stress is the self-sacrifice of all those battling, under extreme conditions, to extinguish the fires.”
The most serious wildfire was burning in Marathon municipality, northeast of Athens, after erupting the previous evening.
Swirling winds of up to 7 on the Beaufort scale on Saturday morning caused the flames to switch direction and head towards a cluster of country residences in the region.
The fires have reached the towns of Grammatiko and Varnavas, near Marathon.
A number of homes have been destroyed and thousands of hectares of forest and farmland burnt.
The fires broke out late Friday and developed overnight, fed by gale-force winds that kept shifting direction, fire officials said.
Firefighters are now trying to prevent the blazes from spreading to Pendeli, a northern suburb with a panoramic view of Athens.
Much of Pendeli mountain was destroyed in 2007, and further erosion of the treeline would be an ecological disaster.
A massive force comprised of 53 fire engines, 24 municipal water trucks, 19 fire-fighting aircraft and up to 300 fire brigade and volunteer fire-fighters were at the scene battling the blaze.
Greek government declared a state emergency Saturday for the region of Attica and urged the residents to remain calm and follow the instructions from the fire brigade. Meteorologists warned that continuing winds made it likely more fires would break out. “The coming night will be especially difficult,’’ Yiannis Kapakis, a fire service spokesman, said.
“We urge people to remain calm and, in any case, not panic.’’
He said 75 fires had broken out across Greece since early Saturday morning – including blazes on the island of Evia, Skyros and Zakynthos as well as in parts of central and southern Greece.
Greece has the most typical Mediterranean style of weather which is very dry and hot in the summer time. Bush fires occur often during this season. Big fires in August 2007 killed more than 60 people and resulted in serious environmental damages.