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Devastating fires still raging around Athens.

Massive wildfires raging north of Athens spread yesterday despite a lull in the gales that have been fanning them.

The fires have been burning for three days, destroying forest and brush, wrecking scores of homes and forcing thousands to flee outlying areas of the capital.

At least five people were being treated for burns and several dozen had reported breathing problems, but none of the injuries is serious.

At first light yesterday water-dropping planes and helicopters resumed operations near populated areas.

"There are some signs of optimism but no letting up of the firefighting effort. We have a chance to contain this nightmare that has burned the city's main forest area," Athens regional governor Yiannis Sgouros said.

"After this, we will assess the extent of this catastrophe."

Fires raged, meanwhile, at the coastal town of Nea Makri and nearby Marathon, site of one of ancient history's most famous battlegrounds, to the north east of the capital, and at Vilia to the north west.

At Nea Makri, a blaze swept down a hillside toward houses, and a dozen nuns were rescued from a nearby Christian Orthodox convent threatened by fire. Volunteers, clutching branches and with water-soaked towels wrapped around their necks, beat back the flames as the evacuation took place.

Elsewhere, residents defended homes, soaking their front gardens with hoses and buckets of water. Fires continued to threaten the ancient town of Rhamnus, home to two 2,500-year-old temples.

Up to 2,000 firefighters, soldiers and volunteers are involved in fighting fires stretching more than 30 miles north east of Athens.

Aircraft have been sent from France, Italy and Cyprus to join in the effort, with more help expected from other countries. Officials have not said what started the fires, the worst since blazes ravaged southern Greece two years ago, killing 76 people.

Hundreds of forest blazes plague Greece every summer and many are started intentionally.

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A plane drops water on a burning forest in Nea Makri, near Athens
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 25, 2009
Words:330
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