RE: Areas of Athens Are Engulfed by Growing Fire

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Aug 17, 2007, 6:17:25 AM8/17/07
Areas of Athens Are Engulfed by Growing Fire
Published: August 17, 2007  New York Times

ATHENS, Aug. 16 — Ferocious flames fanned by gales singed the northern outskirts of Athens on Thursday, destroying homes and causing power failures in the worst forest fire to close in on the Greek capital in a month.

Hundreds of firefighters and volunteers were called in by local authorities to battle the fire along the lush green slopes of Mount Penteli, about 12 miles north of Athens. The cause of the fire is not known.

Despite early efforts to control the blaze, strong winds had the fire racing down the mountain, engulfing three affluent residential districts — Nea Penteli, Melissia and Vrilissia — in flames within three hours of its outbreak, officials said.

By midday, hundreds of residents were seen tossing bags and belongings into their cars, fleeing not only the fire but also a spate of explosions apparently caused by gas boilers in flaming homes.

At least 120 patients were evacuated from a private clinic in Penteli, and a fleet of water-bomber planes and helicopters battled the raging flames as Athens stood under thick clouds of gray-and-orange smoke.

"Strong winds and the smoke have hampered ours efforts," said Evangelos Falaras, spokesman for the Greek Fire Brigade. "We can't zero in on the flaming region. So, much of the water is falling off target."

The result: a series of power failures across the Greek capital caused by wet electricity pylons.

The situation, the spokesman said, was "very difficult."

Once a lush pine forest, Penteli was twice burned by arsonists in the mid-1990s. Still, a high-profile reforestation campaign swiftly transformed the region into one of the last areas of substantial greenery accessible to the five million residents of Athens.

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