August 9, 2012 / 12:45 PM / 7 years ago

Hundreds flee as fire rages at Greece's Mount Athos

ATHENS (Reuters) - A wildfire raged through Greece’s 1,000-year-old monastic community of Mount Athos on Thursday, forcing hundreds of residents and tourists in a nearby village to flee, officials said.

The blaze, which broke out on Wednesday in a forested area on the rugged Mount Athos peninsula in northern Greece, burned down two abandoned warehouses but officials said there were no reports of anyone hurt.

Three hotels were evacuated in the coastal village of Ouranoupolis, next to the Greek Orthodox community of 20 monasteries, police said. TV pictures showed huge plumes of thick black smoke rising into the air.

A fire brigade official said about 60 firefighters, 26 trucks, four aircraft and three helicopters were deployed to battle the flames fanned by strong summer winds and scorching temperatures.

“The situation is very difficult. The mayor asked vulnerable groups to evacuate,” said the official, who declined to be named.

Wildfires are common in Greece during its hot and dry summers, when intense heat is often combined with strong winds, drought or arson.

Devastating wildfires in 2007 killed 65 people, scorched thousands of hectares of forest and farmland, destroyed villages and threatened archaeological sites.

Environmental groups have often criticized the debt-choked country for not taking necessary precautions to prevent and fight forest fires.

Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Rosalind Russell

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