Blaze on Mount Athos forces some to flee

Firefighters were still trying on Thursday night to get under control a blaze that broke out on Mount Athos in northern Greece — the location of a semi-autonomous monastic community and World Heritage site — which threatened the resort of Ouranoupoli.

The fire broke out on Wednesday afternoon in the Monoxylitis area of the mountain, in the vicinity of the Serbian Orthodox Hilandar Monastery, which is the northernmost of the community and was damaged by fire in 2004. By Thursday morning, the fire had begun to approach Ouranoupoli, a popular destination for tourists visiting Halkidiki. The cause of the fire was not immediately clear.

?At these difficult times, panicking is the worst thing you can do,? said Macedonia-Thrace Minister Theodoros Karaoglou. ?We have to be calm, collected and coordinated, and citizens have to listen to authorities? instructions.?

More than 100 firefighters, 40 fire engines, three water dropping airplanes and three helicopters were deployed in the effort to put out the blaze. Karaoglou describe the work carried out by the fire service as ?heroic.?

Their work was made difficult by the tinderbox conditions caused by the latest summer heat wave and less rainfall than usual this year. The wind also picked up yesterday and frequent changes in its direction created extra problems for firefighters who attempted to tackle the front, which spread over 25 kilometers.

Dozens of people were evacuated from holiday homes and hotels as the fire approached Ouranoupoli and thick smoke became dangerous for children and those with health problems.

?Ouranoupoli is not under threat at the moment,? deputy mayor of the local municipality of Aristoteli, Constantinos Katsavavakis, told ?There has been a partial evacuation of people,? he said.

In Tripoli, in the Peloponnese, a 45-year-old man was arrested and charged with accidentally starting a fire that burned in the area of Arcadia for two days.