25 Aug 2009

Greek authorities defend handling of wildfires

10:12 pm on 25 August 2009

Authorities in Greece have defended their handling of wildfires that have been sweeping across the outskirts of the capital Athens, devastating forests and homes.

Environmental groups and the Greek media say the government had not learnt lessons from the fatal 2007 wildfires, the BBC reports.

But a government spokesman said on Tuesday that efforts had been well co-ordinated, pledging that all forests would be re-planted.

The European Commission estimates 21,000 hectares of pines, olive grove, brush and farmland have been destroyed.

One Greek newspaper, To Vima, accused the government of "fatal errors".

The director of environmental group World Wildlife Fund said that "a complete overhaul" was needed in the way forest fires were tackled.

But Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis thanked pilots who fought the fires and said they had "surpassed the limits of human endurance".

A spokesperson for the Greek fire brigade said emergency services were close to controlling the fires as winds eased, but warned the danger of flare-ups was still present.

Waterbombing planes were sent to tackle fires still burning on Mount Kithaironas, west of Athens, and in Karystos, on the island of Evia. Officials said the blazes did not pose a threat to inhabited areas.

Thousands of residents of Athens' northern suburbs have been forced to abandon their homes since Saturday.

The fires began late on Friday in Grammatiko, near Marathon. They are the worst since those in 2007 which killed about 70 people.