|Hundreds of firefighters and troops yesterday battled a forest fire on a mountain overlooking Athens, but lighter winds during the night had eased their task and homes were no longer threatened, authorities said. "It is better, the wind has dropped, we are more optimistic than yesterday," a fire department spokeswoman said.
However, she said flames returned Friday morning at one site west of Mount Parnita, some 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of the Greek capital.
"We have successfully handled a difficult task," Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras said following an emergency cabinet called by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis. But "the fight continues," he added.
Authorities deployed more than 100 firefighters, some 300 soldiers, four water-dropping planes, two helicopters and around 40 fire engines in a bid to douse the flames on Mount Parnitha.
"My area was spared, but unfortunately the forest is no longer there," the mayor of the village of Thramakedones, considered the most at risk from the blaze, told Flash radio.
The village Friday remained covered in a thick grey cloud that blocked the sun, amid a strong smell of burning wood.
A military radar station, a casino and summer camps on Mount Parnitha were evacuated on Thursday. But the fire department spokeswoman said homes in the area were no longer threatened Friday.
Visible from the capital, the fire began late Thursday on a ridge several kilometres (miles) long and threatened a national park which extends about 30 kilometres (20 miles) northwest of the Athens.
The park is one of the few green areas around the heavily polluted Greek capital. It had suffered fires in 2004 and 2002.
Elsewhere, more than 500 firefighters were battling a blaze raging since Wednesday in Pilion, a wooded and tourist region in the northwest of the country.
In total, fires have been reported from more than 100 sites across the country since Wednesday morning, although most were extinguished, the fire service said.
The fires broke out after a nine-day heatwave described by authorities as the longest ever recorded in the country, and were fanned by strong winds.
Nine people died from heatstroke, and the charred bodies of two men were found Thursday in the central region of Agia Larissas where they became trapped by a blaze.
|The Wallabies believe they have found a chink in the mighty All Blacks they can exploit in their Tri-Nations rugby Test in Melbourne today.
Luke McAlister has been thrust into the hot seat in a New Zealand backline reshuffle after yesterday's withdrawal of fullback Leon MacDonald with a groin injury at training.
Mils Muliaina shifts to fullback with ball-playing Aaron Mauger promoted off the reserves' bench to inside-centre and McAlister moving to an unaccustomed outside-centre.
Wallabies' captain and outside-centre Stirling Mortlock identified it as a potential defensive weakness in the New Zealand backline, much which he helped exploit in Australia's shock 2003 World Cup semi-final defeat of the Kiwis.
"Defensively, 13 (outside-centre) is quite different to 12 (inside-centre), so hopefully if we do our job well we can test him out there, but I'm sure he's going to expect that anyway," Mortlock told a match-eve press conference Friday.
"Certainly having to play at 13 in a position that's slightly foreign to him gives us an opportunity to go through.
"It would be amiss of us if we didn't test out a guy who's probably having his first game at 13.
"It's a bit of a risk, I guess, but they have a huge amount of gains to be made in attack, having three ball players at 10, 12 and 13 that opens up a huge amount of opportunities for them."
Parallels have been made about New Zealand's use of MacDonald out of position at No.13 at the last World Cup, when a Mortlock intercept try gave Australia the impetus for a stunning 22-10 win that propelled the Wallabies into the final against England in Sydney.
"In the (2003) World Cup we managed to find out Leon (MacDonald) at 13 a number of times," Mortlock said.
Mortlock said this was a game the Wallabies were targeting to assess their preparation for September's World Cup in France.
"We've felt that last year we improved through the three matches we played against the All Blacks, but obviously we didn't get the result in any of those matches," he said.
"We go into this match with confidence knowing that if we play well we can get a result and we're hopeful of doing that.
"New Zealand have been that far ahead of everybody else internationally over the last couple of years that realistically the teams below them have had a lot more room left for improvement.
"We were always aware that we have a lot of improvement left in us and in between last year and this year we've shown that.
"But certainly our focus over the rest of our matches in the Tri-Nations is to keep on improving and if we do that it will give us a huge amount of confidence moving forward."
All Blacks' coach Graham Henry said he was more disappointed for MacDonald than concerned about the overall disruption to his team.
"I feel for Leon, he's in the best nick of his life and he was really looking forward to the game and this happens and it's going to put him back four weeks probably," Henry told a press conference Friday.
The backline switch means that for the 22nd consecutive Test the All Blacks will be fielding a different midfield combination.
"Luke played at No.13 in the first half against Canada a couple of weeks ago and he's trained there for that particular game," Henry said.
"He's a versatile player, it's a big ask for him, but he'll do his best.
"He hasn't experienced playing there a lot and I think centre is the key area defensively in a backline, it's certainly the high work-rate position and you always have to make decisions there on second-play runners. It's challenging, for sure."