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Forest fires alert across Greek Islands

- by Jeremy Guest

Forest fires alert across Greek Islands.

Nearly half the wildfires sweeping Greece and the Greek Islands this summer are thought to have been started deliberately. Greek authorities fear speculative developers are deliberately setting fire to tinder dry forests to clear land for building. Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias said investigations show at least half the dozens of fires sweeping Greece and its islands were deliberate acts of arson.

This year has been one of the worst for Greek island forest fire outbreaks since 2007 when huge wildfires in southern Greece killed more than 70 people.

Wildfires raged on the islands of Rhodes and Crete earlier this month and a major blaze on Serifos was brought under control in the past few days.

Hot, dry weather and high winds make many parts of Greece vulnerable to such fires over the summer months.

Firefighters are currently tackling a parkland blaze on the outskirts of Athens which was being fanned by high winds. Emergency fire protection measures may include a ban on vehicles and pedestrians in parks and woodlands in urban areas from dusk to dawn.

Many forest fires in Greece are the result of negligence, in particular open-air barbecues and discarded cigarettes, but some are also deliberate and arsonists are suspected of sparking blazes to clear forest land for building developments.

Mr Dendias said: "Sometimes through criminal negligence and other times under mysterious or suspicious conditions ... fires break out that are testing the endurance of the fire service's human resources."

Nearly 300 firefighters, soldiers and volunteers are fighting the blaze near Athens, joined by 10 water-dropping planes and two helicopters. At least four homes in the area have been burned down in the blaze.

The latest fire is the second in as many days near the capital. Earlier 10 homes were burned as a fire raged near Marathon, north of Athens and this week the fire service recorded a total of 49 forest fires across the country.