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Firefighters claim victory over Athens wildfire

Last Updated: Tuesday, August 25, 2009 - 14:23

Athens: Firefighters claimed victory on Tuesday over a devastating, wind-swept wildfire that ravaged the outskirts of Athens over four days, enabling them to redeploy water-bombers to other blazes in Greece.

"The situation has greatly improved, we currently have no active fronts in greater Athens," a fire department spokeswoman said. "Firefighting forces remain on location to watch out for possible areas of resurgence."

Water-bombers were diverted to Mount Kithaironas, west of Athens, and to Karystos on the island of Evia to tackle fires in both places that did not, however, pose a threat to inhabited areas.

More than 500 firefighters -- joined by counterparts from Austria, Cyprus, France, Italy and Turkey -- battled the wildfire northeast of Athens that scorched more than 20,000 hectares and destroyed scores of homes.

Two more water-bombers from Spain were expected on Tuesday.

A "generous" offer of assistance by Macedonia was turned down, the government said.
The Public Works Ministry on Monday said around 150 homes had been damaged after a first estimate but it was widely agreed that scores of properties were completely destroyed.

A more detailed inspection of stricken areas was expected to begin Tuesday.

A small number of people were in temporary housing, the authorities said.

At least two people were injured according to reports, and a water-bomber pilot was picked out of the sea off Nea Makri on Monday after his plane lost one of its floats, the government said.

The late summer inferno came exactly two years after similar wildfires killed 77 people in various parts of Greece, prompting strong criticism of the authorities.

Greek media pulled no punches on Tuesday either, accusing the government of "fatal errors" and incompetence.

To Vima daily cited ten major fires since 1981 that should have provided ample lessons to authorities

"There is no alibi for the incredible disaster in greater Athens," the daily said, blasting the government for allegedly leaving Greece`s firefighting forces 3,000 staff short of their nominal strength.

Ethnos daily poured scorn on an earlier statement by government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros that appeared to blame pine trees for the fire.

"Pine trees may be pretty but in a way they are an additional aggravating factor in the spread of fires," Antonaros had said Monday.

The disaster was a fresh blow to the embattled conservative government of Costas Karamanlis on whose watch Greece suffered its greatest fire-related catastrophe in living memory in 2007.

At the time, Karamanlis called an early general election a month later.

The PM is again widely reported to calculate when to hold another early election as his administration teeters on the edge barely halfway through its four-year term.

Resting on a single-seat majority in Parliament, the government has been buffeted by corruption scandals and has heard repeated Opposition calls to stand down.

Bureau Report

First Published: Tuesday, August 25, 2009 - 14:23

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