Greek wildfire near Athens recedes

ATHENS Sun Jun 17, 2012 8:03am EDT

1 of 12. Locals look at a forest fire approaching their house at Thymari coastal village, 40 km (25 miles) southeast of Athens, June 16, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Yannis Behrakis

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ATHENS (Reuters) - A wildfire that burned rural land near Athens and sent some residents fleeing their homes receded on Sunday with firefighters expecting to put out the blaze within hours.

More than 140 firefighters with dozens of engines battled the flames, aided by seven aircraft and four helicopters. Greek authorities on Saturday asked other EU countries to send water bombing airplanes to reinforce efforts to fight the fires.

Two Italian Canadair aircraft with a total of 10 crew members left Ciampino airbase outside Rome early on Sunday bound for Greece, the European Commission said.

Politicians from the country's main parties visited the region just hours before a national election that may determine Greece's future in the euro zone.

The fire broke out on Saturday from sparks at a site where workers had been welding, and, fanned by strong winds, it quickly spread to engulf the settlements of Palaia Fokaia, Keratea and Legraina near the southern coast of Athens.

The four workers were charged with starting the blaze through negligence, police said.

"The picture has improved as winds changed direction, blowing towards the area that was already burnt. Flare ups are being dealt with," a police official said.

Police said the blaze, the first of Greece's wildfire season, was not threatening homes, though some residents in the area were evacuated as a precaution. It destroyed at least 10 small warehouses with four firefighters taken to hospital with breathing problems.

Wildfires are frequent in Greece during the summer, often due to soaring temperatures and strong winds, drought or arson.

Hot and dry summers mean forests are more frequently brought to the tinder-box conditions that allow fires to spread rapidly with devastating consequences. (Reporting by George Georgiopoulos in Athens and Charlie Dunmore in Brussels; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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