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Fire risk for this week 'exceptionally critical', says minister

Ban on all pedestrian and vehicular traffic through forests near urban areas announced

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As wildfires return to Attica, Public Order Nikos Dendias says police will be deployed to patrol forests, augmenting the motorcycle fire service and military patrols already being carried out

A local resident leads a horse away from the flames of a forest fire in Varybobi, a northwestern suburb of Athens, on 6 August 2013 (AP) A local resident leads a horse away from the flames of a forest fire in Varybobi, a northwestern suburb of Athens, on 6 August 2013 (AP) The fire risk for the rest of this week is "exceptionally critical" due to strong winds and dry conditions, the public order minister has said.

Nikos Dendias, speaking after an emergency meeting at the fire service's operational headquarters, announced a ban on all pedestrian and vehicular traffic through forests and woodland near urban areas from sunset to sunrise, and in some cases throughout the day as well.

Police will be deployed to patrol the forests, augmenting the motorcycle fire service and military patrols already being carried out, he said.

He appealed to the public to remain vigilant and avoid high-risk behaviour.

Many fires result from negligence - open-air barbecuing, industrial work or discarded cigarettes - but some are also deliberately set. In the past, arsonists were suspected of sparking blazes in an attempt to clear forest land for building development.

"Sometimes through criminal negligence and other times under mysterious or suspicious - due to the time or the area - conditions, ... fires break out that are testing the endurance of the fire service's human resources," Dendias said.

His announcements came after authorities struggled overnight to contain a large blaze that broke out late Monday in the Varybobi area north of Athens and prevent it from spreading to an adjacent nature reserve on Mt Parnitha.

Nearly 300 firefighters, soldiers and volunteers who fought the overnight blaze were joined after dawn by 10 water-dropping planes and two helicopters, the fire service said in a statement. At least four homes in the area were burned before the fire, which was fanned by strong winds, was brought under control.

The fire was the second in as many days near the capital. Earlier Monday, another large wildfire burned about 10 homes as it raged through a hamlet near Marathon, north of Athens. In the 24 hours from Monday morning to Tuesday morning, the fire service had recorded a total of 49 forest fires across the country.

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