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Athens News Agency: News in English, 09-08-23
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 PM views fire-stricken regionsAn emergency meeting chaired by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis was held on Sunday morning at the Maximos Mansion government house to focus on the massive wildfire that erupted in northeast Attica prefecture, and which was threatening several northern Athens suburbs later in the day.
Speaking afterwards, Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos said the situation was grave due to the gusty winds blowing in the country and the terrain in the specific region. Additionally, he said securing life and property is the first order of business for fire-fighters and emergency response crews.
It was following this specific meeting that Deputy Interior Minister Christos Markoyiannakis announced that Athens was requesting assistance from its European allies, within the framework of the FIRE 5 mechanism.
 Major wildfire NE of greater Athens ragesA multi-front wildfire raged northeast of the greater Athens area on Sunday fuelled by gusty winds, as smoke filled the air over the Greek capital, while flames neared residential areas in Athens' leafier northern suburbs. While dozens of residences, mostly country homes, were burned, no casualties were reported.
On Saturday, with winds gusting up to 7 on the Beaufort scale the Greek fire brigade announced an unprecedented 83 small to large wildfires around the country, including an initially menacing blaze east of Karystos on southern-most Evia island, three separate wildfires on the Ionian island of Zakynthos, two wildfires on the island of Skyros, in central Viotia prefecture and a fire in the Dymis municipality outside the western port city of Patras. The fires on Zakynthos were extinguished by Sunday morning. Meanwhile, a new press release on Sunday morning reported 65 forest fires of various sizes and intensity around the country since 6:30 a.m. (04:30 GMT).
Amid the declaration of a state of emergency in northern Attica prefecture, north of greater Athens, and a full mobilisation of Greece's hefty fire-fighting apparatus, the government requested aid from its European allies, with the first fire-fighting aircraft from abroad patrolling by Sunday afternoon.
The multi-front blaze was active in a triangle bounded by the community of Pikermi in the south, Grammitiko and Varnavas in the northeast and Aghios Stefanos in the northwest, a large swath of territory that includes pine forests, large expanses of pastureland, residential communities, crops and olive groves as well as hillier and mountain peaks. Particular emphasis was being placed on preventing wildfires from bypassing the Dionysos mountain slopes, areas ravaged by wildfires in the previous two decades, although in the early afternoon (12.30GMT) television footage showed flames licking houses on the slopes of nearby Mount Penteli, and specifically in the Ano Vrilissia district.
Later in the afternoon fronts were reported near the Pallini township in eastern Attica prefecture and further south near the town of Markopoulo and the Kalyvia site, as newly erupted wildfires were being added to the ongoing blazes. The recent spate of wildfires began on Thursday, with a wildfire erupting in the Magoula district of industrial western Attica prefecture.
The worst wildfire fronts by the early evening were in the Kalentzi district just east of Lake Marathon, Varnavas and Pallini, east of Athens proper. The firestorm that rushed through the Aghios Stefanos municipality, north of Athens and Mount Dionysos, was to be ebbing towards nightfall. Conflicting reports had earlier referred to an evacuation of Aghios Stefanos, a residential and commercial centre some 35 kilometres north of downtown Athens.
In the late afternoon on Sunday, Greek Police's (EL.AS) headquarters urged returning holiday-makers to avoid using the northern highways leading into Athens unless absolutely necessary, in order to facilitate fire brigade operations in regions north of the city.
According to reports on Sunday, a total of 130 fire engines, 26 military vehicles, some 500 fire-fighters aided by 340 troops, 20 aircraft, along with 30 water tankers and more than 500 vehicles from adjoining municipalities are involved in efforts to battle the fires.
The European Commission also announced the activation of the Union's civil defence mechanism on Saturday evening, with two Italian fire-fighting aircraft already patrolling over southern Greece, while another two French planes were reportedly en route to Greece as well. Cyprus also announced its willingness to dispatch a water-dropping helicopter.
In a later report from Vienna, Austria's defence ministry announced that it will send six firefighting aircraft and helicopters to Greece. Additionally, 30 military officers and a Hercules C-130 transport aircraft will escort the firefighting aircraft.
Problems were expected reported in power lines in affected regions, although the state energy company PPC said its high-voltage lines are unaffected and no problems are foreseen for the greater Athens area. Four medium-voltage lines were down, PPC stated, with 200 repairmen and linesmen sent to affected areas.
On the government side, an emergency meeting was held at the Maximos Mansion government house, chaired by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, with all relevant ministers, civil defence and armed forces personnel to consider all additional measure to combat the wildfires, especially the one in northeast Attica prefecture.
aramanlis later flew over the fire-stricken region in a helicopter, while on Saturday he met with the fire brigade's leadership at the service's command centre in Athens. Additionally, it was announced that President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias was returning from his holidays in northwest Greece.
Finally, in what's expected to be a groundswell of financial support for the fire-stricken areas, the Central Union of Municipalities and Communities (KEDKE) will provide 500,000 euros from its reserves for restoration projects for municipalities and communities in northeastern Attica affected by the latest disastrous wildfires.
Caption: A fire-fighter is shown amid a backdrop of burning of brushland in the Kalentzi district, just east of Lake Marathon in northeast Attica prefecture, on Saturday, Aug. 22. 2009. ANA-MPA / COSTAS TSIRONIS.
 KKE: Organised arson planCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) Secretary General Aleka Papariga, referring to the spate of wildfires surrounding northern Athens on Sunday, referred to a well-organised plan aimed at appropriating choice tracts of land in the wider region of eastern Attica prefecture, where most of the wildfires erupted.
Papariga stressed that, in her opinion, the essence of the problem is that "when there is an organised and well-planned arson plan aimed at the choice tracts of land, and when there is also an enacted framework allowing land speculation, there can be no high-level civil defence plan. I believe that it could exist, one that is better than the one that exists, but we must not ask for an organised plan to be tackled with firefighting means..."
An announcement by the Coalition of the Left (Synaspismos) stated that "at this time, the full utilisation of all the means to restrict the conflagration is necessary, before we mourn even worse things."
In televised statements, Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party leader George Karatzaferis said "all of us must assume our responsibilities and first of all the government," adding that "more action and effectiveness is required. Every summer the same and the same. At last, we must tackle the issue at some moment."
Caption: A volunteer forest fire-fighter battles a wildfire atop Mount Penteli, overlooking greater Athens from the north, on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2009. ANA-MPA / COSTAS TSIRONIS
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