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Fires close in on Athens -

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ELEANOR HALL: To Greece now where authorities have declared a state emergency over the forest fires
circling the capital Athens.

Tens of thousands of people living in the outer suburbs have been evacuated from their homes and
the fires have burnt through more than 30 acres of forest.

So far no one has been killed by the blazes.

But an Australian fire expert says this is the second series of extreme fires in Greece in two
years and is an indicator of climate change.

Jennifer Macey has our report.

JENNIFER MACEY: More than 70 fires continued to blaze into the night in north-eastern Greece as the
flames encroached upon Athens.

The fires started late on Friday just outside the capital in the village of Grammatiko near the
ancient town of Marathon.

Strong winds caused the fires to quickly spread to neighbouring villages, burning through forests,
olive groves and houses.

By Sunday the suburbs on the edge of Athens were aflame. A resident of a nearby village says the
fires took them by surprise.

GREEK RESIDENT (translated): By the time we realised what was happening and we could get into the
car and leave, the fire had surrounded us. It came from all around and this is what it left behind
- catastrophe. As you can see a total catastrophe.

JENNIFER MACEY: Police with loudspeakers drove through Agio Stefanos a suburb 20 kilometres outside
Athens urging residents to leave.

Almost the entire population has been evacuated but some ignored the pleas of authorities and
stayed behind.

They tried to protect their homes with buckets of water, hoses and even olive tree branches.

AGIOS RESIDENT (translated): Most people left. I just couldn't leave. I did what I could, as much
as I could but it turns out you can't fight this fire. It is moving too fast for us.

JENNIFER MACEY: Fire fighting efforts were hampered by gale force winds that changed direction
constantly over the weekend. There weren't enough planes or helicopters to water bomb all of the
blazes. And the aircraft that was available couldn't fly in the thick smoke or at night.

More than 600 fire fighters struggled to contain the 50-kilometre long fire front. Some residents
have complained that the authorities aren't doing enough.

AGIOS RESIDENT (translated): The fire is passed along street and is coming towards us and we have
not seen one fire engine. We have had no help at all.

The Greek Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos says the Government is doing what it can under
difficult conditions.

PROKOPIS PAVLOPOULOS: The situation is grave due to the gusty winds blowing in the country and the
terrain in the specific region. Securing life and property is the first order of business for
fire-fighters and emergency response crews.

JENNIFER MACEY: Greek officials say these are the worst fires since the 2007 wildfires which killed
70 people and left thousands others homeless. But they still don't know if the fires were
deliberately lit.

Two years ago, an Australian delegation of fire experts went to Greece to advise fire authorities

Andrew Lawson the deputy chief officer Country Fire Service in South Australia was part of that

ANDREW LAWSON: So there was quite a few villages that we saw that were totally wiped out and it was
devastating for the people of Greece.

JENNIFER MACEY: He says Greece and Australia share a lot of similarities.

ANDREW LAWSON: Very similar fuel conditions to us. Indeed they have quite a lot of very similar
trees in the eucalyptus type trees and very similar weather conditions.

JENNIFER MACEY: But another fire expert, Professor David Bowman from the University of Tasmania
says the conditions in Greece are different to Australia.

He says the scale of these wildfires in Europe serves as a stark warning for Australia's upcoming
fire season.

DAVID BOWMAN: I react to those fires with a sense of dread. This is the second extreme fire event
around Athens in a few years. Yes, it is a Mediterranean climate and yes, you can have fires in
those landscapes but the Australian landscapes are far more flammable.

And these fires do seem to be revealing the fingerprints of climate change - extreme fire weather,
sustained extreme fire weather and of course, this is just a run of fires we have seen in the
Mediterranean, Canary Islands in the west coast of the United States, in South America.

We have seen a global syndrome emerging of really serious fires.

ELEANOR HALL: Professor David Bowman from the University of Tasmania ending that report by Jennifer