Residents flee as fire rages at Marathon, near Athens

ATHENS Mon Aug 5, 2013 1:30pm EDT

1 of 18. A Greek firefighter carries a hose as a forest fire rages in Marathon near Athens August 5, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Yannis Behrakis

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ATHENS (Reuters) - A wildfire fanned by strong winds raged near Athens on Monday, damaging homes and sending residents fleeing, fire brigade officials said.

Reuters witnesses said the blaze had damaged at least three homes at a hamlet by the town of Marathon - the site of the historic 490 BC battle between Athenians and Persians about 40 kilometres (25 miles) northeast of the Greek capital.

"The flames have reached homes, but we don't know yet how many are threatened," said a fire brigade official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

About 50-60 people were evacuated from their holiday homes in the area, according to a police official. Live television footage showed a thick cloud of black smoke billowing into the air as the fire consumed low vegetation.

More than 60 firefighters and volunteers, supported by dozens of fire engines, four aircraft and four helicopters, battled flames that spread on several fronts. The fire brigade said it would reinforce the teams on the ground.

Summer wildfires are frequent in Greece, often sparked by soaring temperatures, gale force winds, drought, accidents or arson. Greece's worst wildfires in living memory in 2007 killed 65 people over 10 days.

(Reporting by Yannis Behrakis, writing by Renee Maltezou; editing by Mike Collett-White)

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