A partial drop in gale-force winds early this morning offered hard-pressed Greek firefighters a brief respite after wildfires raged for two days north of Athens, burning houses and swathes of forest while forcing thousands to evacuate their homes.
Officials warned that the vast blaze was still threatening inhabited areas on the capital's northern fringes and near Marathon -- site of one of history's most famous battlegrounds.
"There are fewer hazardous points," Fire Brigade spokesman Yiannis Kappakis said. "But the blaze is still developing."
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said the fire -- one of more than 90 that broke out across Greece over the weekend --was still very hard to tackle.
"The situation remains very difficult," he said after a fire brigade briefing. "The enormous (firefighting) effort will continue on all fronts throughout the night."
Firefighters were set to gain a new boost at first light today, when water-dropping aircraft will resume operations, assisted by aircraft from France, Italy and Cyprus. Nearly 2,000 firefighters and soldiers are engaging the blaze on the ground, together with hundreds of volunteers.
In many afflicted areas, however, despairing residents pleaded for firefighters and equipment that were nowhere to be seen.