Hymettus blaze curbed after nearing homes

A forest fire that broke out early yesterday afternoon at the foot of Mount Hymettus, in eastern Athens, was contained after threatening several houses, a children’s home and a military base. No injuries or damage to buildings was reported. Thick black smoke engulfed much of the capital as the fire spread quickly, fanned by strong winds reaching up to 8 on the Beaufort scale. Police closed off a kilometer stretch of Katehaki Avenue, a major road linking the suburbs to the city center, causing traffic chaos. Some districts near the fire were hit by cuts to power and water supplies. It was unclear what started the blaze but authorities were investigating the possibility of arson after several witnesses claimed to have seen several fires breaking out at the same time. The fire was extinguished within three hours following a mammoth rescue effort involving six water-dropping aircraft, three helicopters and some 100 firefighters. The fire service remained on standby last night to extinguish a possible rekindling. During their efforts to contain the blaze, firefighters discovered a weapons cache which had been hidden in the forest. The cache included a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a hand grenade, a shotgun and several rounds of ammunition. Police could not say where the weapons had come from or who may have hidden them. Several other fires were reported around Greece yesterday, including blazes in northern Evia and in Pelasgia, in Fthiotida prefecture.There were also fires on Kos and in Pirgos, western Peloponnese. In Cyprus, a large fire forced the evacuation of two villages in the island’s south, between the resorts of Larnaca and Limassol. There were no reports of any injuries. According to forestry experts, the fact that Attica’s forests have not been purged of garbage, weeds and other flammable substances helps fuel fires. «There is no forest management and so every time we have conditions like those today, a large fire is inevitable,» said Aristotelis Papageorgiou, a forestry expert at the University of Thrace. «

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