ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 13

Greek forest fires: Death toll rises to 37

Greece, Saturday, AP -- The death toll from forest fires that raged uncontrolled across vast swathes of southern Greece for a second day increased today to 37 people, and the casualties were believed to include several children, the fire department said.
At least 20 of the deaths occurred in the western Peloponnese near the town of Zaharo, the department said. A massive fire in the area, fanned by strong winds, continued to burn out of control.

People run away from the fire in Evia, north of Athens, Greece. AP

Earlier, 27 people had been confirmed dead across the south of the country, and firefighters searching through charred houses near Zaharo after daybreak found 10 bodies in the village of Makistos, the department said. They were believed to include a mother and her four children reported missing during the night, it said. There were fears that the death toll could increase further as rescue crews reached villages that had been surrounded by walls of flames during the night.

Desperate residents and local mayors called television and radio stations to appeal for help from overstretched firefighters. Arson was suspected in several cases, with many new fires starting during the night, said fire department spokesman Nikos Diamandis. Police and firefighting investigators were heading to the areas.

Water-dropping helicopters and airplanes were redeployed to battle the fires, but some were hampered for a second day by strong winds. Across the country since Friday morning, more than 170 blazes raged from the western Ionian islands to Ioannina in northwest Greece, and down to the south.

Several villages were evacuated on Saturday morning, adding to others evacuated throughout the previous day. The deadliest fire was in the western Peloponnese region of southern Greece, where at least 20 people were killed in mountain villages near Zaharo. Nine of those _ including three firefighters _ died after a car crashed into a fire truck and led to a pile up as residents tried to flee the area, the fire department said.

At dawn, the smoldering remains of the fire truck could be seen overturned in a gully, and the charred wreckage of cars and a motorbike lay strewn across the road. Five of the dead were found to the southeast, near a hotel on the outskirts of the town of Areohoro, while a sixth _ a firefighter _ died of a heart attack while trying to battle the blaze.

Hot, dry winds gusting to gale force throughout Friday were expected to continue Saturday before abating in the evening. The winds frequently prevented firefighting planes from taking off, leaving mainly ground forces to fight the flames in the southern Peloponnese, occasionally helped by helicopters.

A fire on the island of Evia north of the capital grew through the night, and the authorities declared a state of emergency in the area, said Sofia Moutsou, the mayor of the town of Styra. At least three villages were evacuated, the fire department's Diamandis said. ''If we don't stop this now there will be nothing left,'' said Moutsou early Saturday.

She was hoping ferries could transport fire trucks to the island to help tackle the blaze. The government on Friday appealed to European Union countries to ''send any help they can,'' acting Interior Minister Spyros Flogaitis said after an emergency meeting of Greece's civil protection authority.

With firefighting services stretched to the limit, the military was also called in to help. Authorities said 500 soldiers, as well as several military helicopters, were to join the firefighting efforts.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.