Fire threatens Athens as gale-force winds fan flames

Wildfires fuelled by gale-force winds were threatening the suburbs of Athens last night as thousands of residents fled to safety.

Firefighters and soldiers battled to contain the flames encroaching on the city's northern edge. "We keep sending in more planes, helicopters and ground vehicles; volunteers constantly arrive," said Yiannis Kalpakis of the fire service.

Roads south were clogged with traffic and, in the Rodopolis district, four elderly people were rescued after fires trapped them in their homes. At 9pm the order was given to evacuate the eastern suburb of Pendeli.

Some 75 fires broke out across Greece yesterday, leaving firefighting forces thin on the ground as the flames destroyed dozens of homes and left olive groves scorched. Near Marathon, 25 miles north-east of Athens, villages were cut off and people were seen running away. Anti-aircraft missiles were removed from a nearby military base.

High winds and the dry climate cause hundreds of wildfires across Greece every summer. But most burn out or are contained before they have a chance to spread.