Greek firefighters battle growing forest blaze near Athens

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ATHENS, Aug 18 (Reuters) - Greek firefighters on Wednesday battled a wildfire raging through one of the last remaining pine forests near Athens and said that homes could be at risk.

More than 500 wildfires have broken out in recent weeks across the country, ravaging swathes of forest and forcing the evacuation of thousands of people.

"Τhe flames are huge. I do not know what will happen, the fire is approaching homes," Lefteris Kosmopoulos, deputy local governor of the Western Attica region, told state TV ERT.

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Buses were on standby in Vilia, about 50 km (30 miles) from Athens, to evacuate residents if needed, as strong winds fanned a fire that started on Monday but had seemed under control. About a dozen smaller villages have been evacuated since Monday.

About 400 firefighters, assisted by additional firefighters from Poland, 15 helicopters and six firefighting planes, were dispatched to the area.

The biggest fire of the past few weeks, on the island of Evia near the capital, burned for days before being contained, ravaging swathes of forest in the north of the island.

Like other countries across the Mediterranean region including Turkey and Tunisia, Greece has seen some of its highest temperatures in decades this summer.

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Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas Editing by Ingrid Melander and Gareth Jones

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