Athens fires driven back, nuns rescued
A multinational effort appears to be bringing fires under control. But Greece's conservative government may suffer anyway over its handling of the crisis.
The efforts of thousands of Greek firefighters and soldiers combined with firefighting planes dispatched by Italy and France made progress against the worst wildfires around Athens in two years, creating optimism in Greece that the Athens suburbs are safe.Skip to next paragraph
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But the electoral chances of Greece's conservative government, expected to face a new election next March, could suffer. In an election shortly after Greece's 2007 fires, the conservatives' majority in parliament was eroded, in part because of public anger at the handling of that crisis.
In the two years since, Greece has not added to its fleet of 21 fire-fighting planes. As the fires gathered steam over the weekend, some mayors were reduced to calling TV stations and appealing for firefighting help, exposing a slow, poorly coordinated firefighting response from the government that echoed 2007.
Reuters reports that morning winds on Monday had stoked the blazes that have been raging in Attica – the region that includes Athens' 4 million residents – for days, until Greek firefighting planes were joined by foreign forces, repeatedly dive-bombing the fronts with fire retardants.
"The fire is still raging but not with the intensity of previous days," said fire brigade spokesman Giannis Kapakis. "Fire-fighters are making every effort to contain its front." Only three main fronts remained in east Attica, where a state of emergency was declared on Saturday, burning mainly forest and threatening fewer communities. "Air forces are operating since early morning and we hope the fire front will be controlled within the day," said Iordanis Louizos, mayor of Nea Makri, a town near the fires' frontline.
To be sure, the Associated Press reports that as of the early afternoon in Greece on Monday, six major fires continued to burn across the country, fueled by the parched conditions and high temperatures of late summer. Twelve Greek Orthodox nuns of the monastery of St. Eprhaim of Nea Makri were rescued by firefighters, and the reputed remains of St. Ephraim – objects of veneration to many Greek Orthodox who seek his intercession in healing – were carried to safety in a basket.