ATHENS (AFP) - Hundreds of people were evacuated Sunday as firefighters backed by water-bombing aircraft battled to contain a raging wildfire threatening Athens eastern suburbs. The inferno forced dozens to flee their homes while authorities evacuated patients from two childrens hospitals, a summer camp and a retirement home as flames and smoke threatened outlying residential districts. Fanned by strong winds, the flames have repeatedly changed direction and Sunday threatened the suburbs of Pallini, Penteli, Dionysos and Stamata, part of a wooded residential area with around 60,000 inhabitants, the fire department said. Many home-owners were defying the pleas of local officials to leave and were staying behind to fight the inferno the worst since wildfires in 2007 that claimed 77 lives amid power and water supply cuts. In Dionysos, whose mayor ordered an evacuation on Saturday, most residents kept a cool head and were Sunday sweeping away tinder-dry twigs and soaking their homes with garden hoses, an AFP reporter said. The minister in charge of police, Christos Markoyiannakis, said every available unit has been thrown into the fray but many residents complained of being left to face the flames alone. We have no water and this hydrant is not working, many thanks to our local council that installed it for us to hang our clothes on, one man told Mega television. We fought this fire and saved our homes alone, another resident in Koukounari community told state television NET. The firemen told us to evacuate to avoid getting trapped, and then they left, he said. Over 600 firefighters, hampered by strong winds and thick smoke, were struggling to halt the wildfire two days after it started Friday despite assistance from a fleet of 12 water-bombing planes and seven helicopters. Weather conditions do not permit the aircraft to operate as they would want and many smouldering areas are left behind, Athens prefect Yiannis Sgouros told state television NET. Patients at the Penteli military hospital were evacuated on Sunday as a precaution and the merchant marine ministry said coastguard vessels were on standby to transport any residents trapped in coastal areas. Two people were admitted to hospital, one with burns and the other with a heart-related problem, state television NET reported. Police called on Athenians returning from holiday to postpone their arrival to avoid clogging roads, while the football federation cancelled all matches scheduled for the capital, including Sunday evenings AEK Athens versus Olympiacos tie. Around 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) of land are believed to have been devastated according to officials early estimates, and the blaze is feared to have destroyed or damaged scores of rural and summer homes. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis called an emergency government meeting after overflying the scorched area in a helicopter and President Karolos Papoulias hastened back from vacation. Karamanlis said the country faced a great ordeal and praised the firefighters superhuman effort. The fire started late on Friday in the rural area of Grammatiko around 40 kilometres (25 miles) northeast of Athens that has been earmarked for a new waste disposal facility strongly opposed by local residents. Strong winds on Saturday pushed it back and forth across a forested area dotted with villages. Firebreaks in the forest on Mount Penteli, the last barrier to the capital, failed to hold back the flames late on Saturday when fire-fighting aircraft were withdrawn for the night. The European Commission on Sunday said it had activated the European Unions civil protection process to help Greece, with Italy, France, Cyprus and Austria all responding to requests for firefighting aircraft, personnel and equipment. The wildfire also continued to burn north of Marathon, the main source of Athens water supply, and led authorities on Saturday to relocate missiles and ammunition from a military camp. With temperatures frequently running above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) and seasonal strong winds, Greece is particularly vulnerable to summer fires that ravage forest and agricultural land. The fire department said a gigantic mobilisation was underway to tackle some 85 blazes that had erupted nationwide in the previous 24 hours. Other fires burned in the central Greek region of Viotia, on the Aegean islands of Skyros and Evia, the Ionian island of Zakynthos and in the Peloponnese peninsula.