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Fires across southern Greece seen abating

Firefighters try to extinguish a fire near the town of Palea Fokaia, south of Athens, Saturday, June 16, 2012. A fire aided by strong winds has burned grassland and threatened houses near the town of Keratea, 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Athens. The fire started in the early Saturday afternoon on dried grass, apparently as the result of an accident and has been spreading fast, threatening to engulf isolated houses on the outskirts of the towns of Keratea and Palea Fokaia. Firefighters try to extinguish a fire near the town of Palea Fokaia, south of Athens, Saturday, June 16, 2012. A fire aided by strong winds has burned grassland and threatened houses near the town of Keratea, 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Athens. The fire started in the early Saturday afternoon on dried grass, apparently as the result of an accident and has been spreading fast, threatening to engulf isolated houses on the outskirts of the towns of Keratea and Palea Fokaia. (AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)
By Demetris Nellas
Associated Press / June 17, 2012
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ATHENS, Greece—Forest fires raging across southern Greece appeared to be abating Sunday, but high winds spurred occasional flare-ups and the danger was far from over, authorities said.

Forest and brush fires are common in the hot, dry summer months in Greece. In 2007, more than 60 people were killed when forest fires scorched the country's south.

Citizens' Protection Minister Eleftherios Economou said more than 30 fires had broken out across the country on Saturday, but that most were brought under control. The risk of new fires was considered high after several days of hot temperatures followed by strong winds across most of Greece.

One major blaze south of Athens has burned some 2,000 hectares (5,500 acres) of brush land and forest, completely destroyed 15 houses and partially damaged more than 100 others, authorities said. Three firefighters were injured battling those flames on Saturday.

More than 180 firefighters and soldiers, alongside a number of local volunteers, were using more than 120 vehicles to fight the blaze, which was in a sparsely populated area south of the capital. The fire department said authorities also were using three water-dropping planes and a helicopter.

High winds kept producing flare-ups but the fire was no longer advancing on a single, broad front, as it did on Saturday, authorities said.

The blazes were being fought as Greeks voted in a national election that could determine whether their financially strapped nation stays in the euro.

Economou said Greece had appealed to the European Union for help in battling the blazes. Italy sent two water-dropping planes Sunday morning, he said. Athens was also awaiting a response from France and Croatia.

Fire department chief Panagiotis Bonatsos appealed to the public on state NET TV to avoid carrying out any outdoor work that could spark fires.

Four people were to appear in court later Sunday on allegations of accidentally causing the blaze south of Athens while carrying out welding work at a construction site.

Separately, an 83-year-old man was arrested on allegations of sparking a fire in the district of Pallini, just east of Athens, while working with an electrical saw at home.

A spark that fell on dry grass ignited a fire that threatened, among other buildings, an ice cream factory. The blaze destroyed 14 vehicles parked in the factory's yard.

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Elena Becatoros contributed to this report.

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