Forest Fire Near Athens Causes Power Cuts

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- A large forest fire on the outskirts of Athens knocked out power in the Greek capital Wednesday and sent a large cloud of smoke over the city.

The fire burning on Mount Hymettus was headed north, away from Athens, and was not threatening homes, Fire Service officials said. The mayor of the town where the fire broke out said he suspects arson.

The blaze damaged a major power line, causing blackouts for more than an hour in central Athens and several other parts of the city.

The Fire Service said eight planes and three helicopters had been sent to help fight the blaze, which broke out near Glyka Nera, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) east of Athens.

"The fire started in broad daylight. I think it was arson," Glyka Nera mayor Giorgos Siokos said. "Land-grabbers have targeted this area many times in the past. This time they have burned the mountain."

Rogue developers are often accused of setting fires to clear trees near populated areas in Greece, where illegal home construction is rampant.

Fire Service spokesman Yiannis Kapakis said the fire was burning a rugged forest area.

"This is a tough day for us. The fire is burning through dense forest," Kapakis said. "We will bring in more planes and helicopters from other parts of the country if necessary."

Kapakis said fires had been contained on the nearby island of Aegina and at Agios Stephanos, north of Athens.

Civil protection agency chief Margaritis Mouzas said a drop in winds had helped firefighters.

"This area is patrolled constantly and the response was immediate. ... The forecast was that winds would drop and fortunately this appears to be the case," Mouzas said.

Fires last year ravaged a nature reserve north of Athens and killed at least 66 people in southern Greece - destroying 200,000 hectares (500,000 acres) of forest, farmland and olive groves in August alone.

In efforts to prevent a repeat of the devastating fires this year, the Fires Service has boosted its air fleet and seasonal firefighting personnel.

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