ATHENS Greek firefighters were on the alert late on Thursday after a wildfire raced through forests near Athens, destroying or damaging several houses and forcing residents to use garden hoses and tree branches to fight the flames.
The blaze, fanned by strong winds, charred the roofs of five houses in the southeast suburb of Keratea and forced people to evacuate their homes, but officials said there were no reports of injuries.
TV pictures showed thick plumes of black smoke rising into the air as the fire tore through vast areas of rural land.
"We were surrounded (by flames) within seconds. The house was destroyed," resident Giorgos Germanakis told Antenna TV.
Dozens of firefighters with 35 fire engines, five aircraft and two helicopters battled the flames.
The fire died down later in the day but firefighters were ready for the dry summer wind to revive the blaze.
"There's no longer a threat to houses but we will remain on the ground until we're certain there are no flare-ups," said a fire brigade official.
Greece regularly faces wildfires during its dry summer months. But any large outbreak this year could pose a particular challenge for the debt-ridden government, which is struggling to cut spending and pull the country out of an economic crisis.
Shortly after being appointed in June, Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Dendias said Greece was not ready for the forest fire season and faced a shortage of operational aircraft.
The government has already asked for water-bombing aircraft from Spain and Italy to help control the wildfires.
Greeks still vividly recall devastating wildfires in 2007 that killed 65 people, scorched thousands of hectares of forest and farmland, destroyed villages and threatened archaeological sites.
A wildfire in the southern Peloponnese raged unchecked for a second day though the flames appeared to be receding, officials said.
(Reporting by Renee Maltezou and Karolina Tagaris, editing by Tim Pearce)