Mount Pendeli fire destroys tens of homes, vehicles

A wildfire that broke out on Mount Pendeli at around 10.30 a.m. yesterday burned more than 20 homes, dozens of cars and some 800 hectares of land, including recently reforested areas, forcing a state of emergency to be declared in the northern Athens suburbs of Melissia, Nea Pendeli and Kifissia. Firemen were patrolling these areas last night to prevent the possibility of a rekindling of the fire that had earlier forced the evacuation of two medical clinics. The blaze also triggered a series of power cuts, leaving many in the area without electricity for hours. At least 10 people were taken to hospital with breathing problems. The fire broke out on Mount Pendeli and soon reached the affluent suburbs of Politia, Melissia, Nea Pendeli, Vrilissia and Kifissia, extending across several kilometers. Officials attributed the fire to arsonists acting on behalf of property developers. «The facts point to arson. The fires started on a number of fronts with a large distance between them. The same thing happened about a month and a half ago but we managed to contain the flames,» Nea Pendeli Deputy Mayor Christos Feidopiastis told Kathimerini. The area has been repeatedly targeted by arsonists in the past. Yesterday’s blaze destroyed many recently planted trees. More than 60 firetrucks, 19 airplanes and helicopters as well as hundreds of firefighters and volunteers were involved in the operation. Gale-force winds fanned the blaze and prevented airplanes from joining the firefighting operation earlier in the day, allowing it to get out of control, according to the fire service. «Between 11 a.m. and 12.30 p.m. the airplanes could not operate due to strong winds and thick smoke,» fire service officer Nikolaos Diamantis told a news conference. «The situation is very difficult. A number of homes have been damaged,» he added. Local officials said that about 10 homes were burnt in Nea Pendeli, and a further 15 in Melissia. About 130 patients from a nearby psychiatric facility were evacuated as were 20 from a medical clinic.