ATHENS The worst forest fire in more than a
decade threatened Athens on Friday, as fire crews, troops and
volunteers fought hundreds of blazes raging throughout Greece.
A major fire that began in a forest north of the capital
had already destroyed the capital's last vestiges of greenery.
Thick smoke hung over Athens skyline, blocking out the
summer sky. Ash lay everywhere, on cars and in the streets, a
result of the destruction of the last major forest near the
"This reminds me of the last day of Pompeii," said Natalia
Giannaki an Athens resident on her way to work, clasping a
handkerchief to her mouth.
Hundreds of firefighters, volunteers and about 300 soldiers
were drafted to fight the most serious fires on Mount Parnitha,
about 25 km (16 miles) north of the capital.
Police estimated that about 2,500 hectares (6,000 acres) of
forest had so far been destroyed, including parts of the
Parnitha National Park.
The fires were the worst to hit Athens since the five-day
Mount Penteli blaze in July 1995. The mountain north of Athens,
formerly covered by forest, has yet to recover fully.
Eight planes, two helicopters and more than 50 fire engines
were also combating the blaze on three fronts.
Five other major fires in central and northern Greece were
still raging but were close to being brought under control,
fire services said. At least two people died near the central
Greek town of Agia on Thursday after they were trapped in their
More than 30 firefighters were taken to hospital for
treatment of smoke inhalation.
"We still have a hard job ahead of us," Public Order
Minister Byron Polydoras told reporters. "We've successfully
faced the hard challenges, and the fronts are retreating
Fire brigade officials said many fires had been triggered
by wooden pylons catching fire in a week-long heat wave that
saw temperatures soar above 40 degrees Celsius (104 F), but in
some cases they were investigating arson as a possible cause.
Initial investigations found evidence that some fires had
been started deliberately, while others were found to have
broken out at rubbish dumps, police said.
The main fire at Parnitha began on Wednesday 80 km (50
miles) north of the capital before quickly spreading south.
During the night the blaze drew closer to the capital's
northern suburbs of Menidi and Thrakomakedones through thick
pine forests. However, the blaze was checked before it reached
The fire threatened the Mont Parnes casino hotel, Athens's
only casino, which was evacuated late on Thursday, while
firefighters created a defensive circle around the building.
However, the encircling fires made it too dangerous to use
the funicular to bring all the people down the mountain and
some die-hard gambling patrons refused to leave.
(Additional reporting by Tatiana Frangou)