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GREEK FIRES reach ancient Olympian sites

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Jordan Fass
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« Reply #15 on: August 26, 2007, 11:33:55 pm »

Isn't this terrible?  And to think, someone actually set it, too.  At least it was stopped before it hit the ancient sites. The loss to history there would have been immeasurable.
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« Reply #16 on: August 27, 2007, 05:03:01 am »








                                     Prosecutor orders probe into Greek fires





By ELENA BECATOROS, Associated Press Writer

 ATHENS, Greece - A top prosecutor ordered an investigation Monday into whether this summer's arson attacks in Greek forests could be considered terrorism, the Public Order Ministry said.
 
Dimitris Papangelopoulos, who is responsible for prosecuting terrorism and organized crime, ordered the investigation to determine "whether the crimes of arsonists and of arson attacks on forests" could come under Greece's anti-terrorism law, the ministry said in a statement.

The probe also will seek to establish the identities of the alleged perpetrators.

For four days, the entire country has been swept by Greece's worst wildfires in living memory, which have killed at least 61 people. Government and firefighting officials have suggested arson caused many of the blazes.




THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece (AP) Firefighting planes took off at first light Monday, targeting dozens of blazes across Greece a day after a massive effort prevented the birthplace of the Olympics from being devastated by the flames.

At least 60 people have been killed by the country's worst wildfires in living memory, which began Friday. New blazes broke out faster than others could be brought under control.

Fire department spokesman Nikos Diamandis said 89 new fires started during a 24-hour period that began at 6 a.m. Sunday. Twenty-eight were considered particularly dangerous.

"Fires are burning in more than half the country," Diamandis said. "This is definitely an unprecedented disaster for Greece."

Desperate residents appealed through television stations for help from a firefighting service already stretched to the limit and anger mounted, with many blaming authorities for leaving them defenseless. Scores of people were treated in hospitals for burns and breathing problems. The government declared a state of emergency on Saturday.

Government and firefighting officials have suggested arson caused many of the blazes, and several people had been arrested. The government offered a reward of up to $1.36 million for anyone providing information that would lead to the arrest of an arsonist.

Meanwhile, a strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.1 struck the western Greek island of Kefalonia on Monday, the Athens Geodynamic Institute said. The island also was the scene of forest fires, with at least one breaking out overnight. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

Forest fires are common during Greece's hot, dry summers but nothing has approached the scale of the last three days.

The front of one fire Sunday reached Ancient Olympia in southern Greece, burning trees and shrubs just a few yards from the museum at the site. Firefighters said the flames, fanned by high winds and swirling air, leaped hundreds of feet in the air at times.

Although the pristine forest around Ancient Olympia was burned, none of the 2,800-year-old ruins were damaged.

"Firefighters fought a battle in Ancient Olympia, which was won," Diamandis said. Authorities said at least two firefighters had been injured in the battle with the flames on Sunday.

Ruined temples of Zeus, king of the ancient Greek gods, and his wife Hera stand on what was a lush riverside site a flat stretch of land surrounded by pine-clad hills near the stadium that hosted the ancient Olympic games for more than 1,000 years after they started in 776 B.C.

The site strewn with fallen columns includes the remains of a gymnasium, a wrestling hall, hostels, bathhouses, priests' residences and altars. The 5th century B.C. limestone temple of Zeus is one of the largest in mainland Greece.

Helicopters and aircraft covered the ruins with water and foam. The flames reached the edge of the ancient stadium, searing the grass and incinerating the trees on the hill above. Volunteers grabbed buckets of water and joined firefighters.

"It's hell everywhere," said Costas Ladas, a resident of Kolyri near Ancient Olympia, who said the fire covered more than a mile in three minutes. "I've never seen anything like it."

Across the country, hundreds of people were evacuated from villages, hotels and resorts. Others took refuge in churches and schools, while the Health Ministry was sending hundreds of tents to southern Greece to house those left homeless.

"I am very angry. The government was totally unable to deal with this situation," Ancient Olympia schoolteacher Gerassimos Kaproulias said. "Nobody thought that one of the five most highly protected areas in Greece could be burned like this."

The worst of the fires have been concentrated in the mountains of the Peloponnese in the south and on the island of Evia north of Athens. Strong winds blew smoke and ash over the capital, blackening the evening sky and turning the rising moon red.

In the ravaged mountain villages in the Peloponnese, rescue crews found a grim scene that spoke of last-minute desperation as the fires closed in. Dozens of charred bodies have been found across fields, homes, along roads and in cars.

The remains of a mother hugging her four children were found near the town of Zaharo in the western Peloponnese.

Four people were killed in a new fire that broke out on Evia on Sunday, including two firefighters, the fire department said. Another two people were found in villages in the Peloponnese.

Elsewhere, flames were about less than two miles from the Temple of Apollo Epikourios, a 2,500-year-old monument near the town of Andritsaina in the southwestern Peloponnese, said the town's mayor, Tryphon Athanassopoulos.

"We are trying to save the Temple of Apollo, as well as Andritsaina itself," he told Greek television.
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« Reply #17 on: August 27, 2007, 11:42:12 am »








                                                 Helicopters sent to save trapped Greeks





By ELENA BECATOROS, Associated Press Writer
21 minutes ago
 
ATHENS, Greece - A helicopter swooped into a village in southern Greece to rescue residents trapped by flames on Monday one of dozens of fires that have torn through village and forest across the country, leaving blackened landscape in their wake.
 
The fires have killed 63 people over four days, destroying everything in their path. One broke out on the fringe of Athens Monday, but was quickly brought under control. Another scorched the woodland around the birthplace of the Olympics.

A woman found dead on Friday with her arms around the bodies of four children had fled her home the only house left standing in the village, said a neighbor in the Peloponnese town of Artemida. The home's white walls and red tile roof were unscathed.

"Nothing would have happened to them. The few that stayed didn't get injured, but most people left to escape, everyone, and only two or three stayed behind," said the neighbor, who identified herself as Miss Paraskevopoulou.

A helicopter airlifted five people to safety on Monday from the village of Prasidaki in southern Greece, said fire department spokesman Yiannis Stamoulis. Another was sent to the village of Frixa.

Fueled by strong, hot winds and parched grass and trees, the fires have engulfed villages, forests and farmland. New blazes broke out faster than others could be brought under control.

"The whole village is burning. It's been burning for three days," one woman sobbed, clutching her 20-month-old daughter as they sheltered in a church along with dozens of others near Figalia, elsewhere in the western Peloponnese.

Dimitris Papangelopoulos, who is responsible for prosecuting terrorism and organized crime, ordered an investigation to determine "whether the crimes of arsonists and of arson attacks on forests" could come under Greece's anti-terrorism law, the Public Order Ministry said.

Forest fires are common during Greece's hot, dry summers but nothing has approached the scale of the past three days.

"So many fires breaking out simultaneously in so many parts of the country cannot be a coincidence," Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said in a nationally televised address on Saturday.

Several people have been arrested on suspicion of arson since Friday, although some were accused of starting fires through negligence rather than intent. One man, however, was charged with arson and homicide in connection with a fire near the southern town of Areopolis on Friday that killed six people.

Building on forest land is forbidden in Greece, but unscrupulous developers are blamed for setting fires to forests in an effort to circumvent the law by disputing the area's status. Greece has no land registry, so once a region has been burned and cleared, there is no definitive proof of whether it was initially forest, farm or field.

"It is rather late now, but the state should designate these areas to be immediately reforested, map them and complete the forest registry without further delay," said Yiannis Revythis, chairman of the association of Athens real estate agents.

The destruction has infuriated Greeks already stunned by deadly forest fires in June and July. Outraged residents heckled Culture Minister George Voulgarakis Sunday when he visited Ancient Olympia to see the firefighting efforts.

"The government was totally unable to deal with this situation," said Gerassimos Kaproulias, an Ancient Olympia schoolteacher.

From Sunday morning to Monday morning alone, 89 new fires broke out, fire department spokesman Nikos Diamandis said.

"This is an immense ecological disaster," said Theodota Nantsou, WWF Greece Conservation Manager. "We had an explosive mixture of very adverse weather conditions, tinder-dry forests to an extent not seen for many years combined with the wild winds of the past two weeks. It's a recipe to burn the whole country."

The government appealed for help from abroad, and 19 countries were sending planes, helicopters and firefighters, including France, which dispatched four water-tanker planes and Russia, which was sending three helicopters and an amphibian plane.

The fires hit during the traditional August holidays when villages across Greece are filled with people Athens and other large cities returning to their ancestral areas.

Desperate residents appealed through television stations for help from a firefighting service already stretched to the limit. The government declared a state of emergency on Saturday.

The worst of the fires are concentrated in the mountains of the Peloponnese in the south and on the island of Evia north of Athens. Strong winds blew smoke and ash over the capital, blackening the evening sky and turning the rising moon red.

In the ravaged mountain villages in the Peloponnese, rescue crews found a grim scene that spoke of last-minute desperation as the fires closed in. Dozens of charred bodies have been found across fields, homes, along roads and in cars.

Weekend wildfires also killed two elderly people in neighboring Bulgaria, officials said Monday. They died in a fire that burned down their house in the southern village of Prisadets, said Darina Stamatova, spokeswoman of the regional administration.

An Associated Press photographer on the scene said almost all houses in the villages of Prisadets, Varnik and Filipovo were destroyed by the flames.

A blistering hot summer has led to more than a thousand wildfires across Bulgaria in the past three months burning down 84,000 acres of forests and farm fields, the government said.

___

Associated Press writers John F.L. Ross in Ancient Olympia and Nicholas Paphitis in Athens contributed to this report.
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« Reply #18 on: August 27, 2007, 11:45:24 am »


AP - Mon Aug 27, 12:40 PM ET This image made on Monday, Aug. 27, 2007, and released by NASA shows smoke from fires in Greece. The fires have killed 63 people over four days, destroying everything in their path. (AP Photo/NASA)
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« Reply #19 on: August 27, 2007, 11:49:32 am »


Reuters - Mon Aug 27, 12:28 PM ET Villagers trapped by flames hug each other as they wait to be evacuated at Frixa village in south Peloponnese, about 350 km (217 miles) off Athens, August 27, 2007. Desperate Greeks made frantic appeals for help as strong winds stoked flames ripping through the country, killing 63 people in four days. REUTERS/Icon (GREECE) 
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« Reply #20 on: August 27, 2007, 11:53:36 am »

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« Reply #21 on: August 27, 2007, 12:24:01 pm »







Countries send help to Greece By The Associated Press
1 hour, 57 minutes ago
 


Countries that have offered Greece firefighting help:

ADVERTISEMENT
 
_Austria: Two army helicopters, a transport plane and 20 firefighters.

_Cyprus: 14 firefighting vehicles, 88 firefighters, 29 civil defense personnel, 22 volunteers trained in firefighting and rescue.

_Czech Republic: One helicopter with five-member crew.

_Denmark: Six firefighting all-terrain vehicles that can climb steep slopes.

_Finland: Three helicopters and 25 firefighters.

_France: Four Canadair

Germany: Three CH-53 water-carrying helicopters. Authorities have also offered firefighting units, including experts in battling forest fires, and other equipment.

_Hungary: 18 firefighters, one doctor, two fire engines, backup equipment.

_Israel: 55 firefighters.

_Italy: One Canadair water-tanker plane.

_The Netherlands: Three Cougar firefighting helicopters and 27 crew.

_Norway: One Bell 214 firefighting helicopter.

_Portugal: One Canadair tanker plane, six personnel.

_Romania: One MI-17 helicopter with a nine crew.

_Russia: Two heavy firefighting helicopters, two Mi-8 helicopters and a multifunctional amphibian plane.

_Slovenia: One water-carrying helicopter.

_Spain: Two Canadair tanker planes.

_Switzerland: Four Super Puma water-carrying helicopters.

_Turkey: One tanker plane.
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« Reply #22 on: August 27, 2007, 12:27:59 pm »







                                                           Why is Greece on fire?




 
By Nicole Itano
Mon Aug 27, 4:00 AM ET
 
ATHENS - The scenes of desperation played out on television: residents phoned local media outlets begging to be saved as walls of fire descended on their houses and villages, while overstretched firefighters battled more than 170 blazes that erupted seemingly simultaneously.
 
On Sunday, at least 51 people were confirmed dead in the worst series of fires to hit Greece in decades. And still, fires, many of them blamed on arsonists, continued to spread across the country, fanned by gale-force winds and fed by vegetation dried out from long months of drought.

Now, as authorities struggle to deal with the immediate crisis, the fires have pushed the environment to the top of the political agenda in a country where such issues previously previously won little attention. With Greek national elections less than three weeks away, questions are being raised about how seriously the government takes the protection of the country's open spaces.

Calling the fires an "unspeakable tragedy," Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis declared a state of emergency Saturday, along with three days of mourning. For the time being, campaigning in the election has been called off and some analysts suggest that the election may even be delayed. Indeed, the fires have spawned outrage and anger across the country.

"Right now we're in state of hiatus, and no one knows how it will finally shake out, but clearly it will be a key issue," says John Psaropoulos, editor of the Athens News, from near Zaharo, one of the hardest hit areas of Greece where dozens have been killed.

This has been one of the hottest and driest summers in recent history, and much of southern Europe has been plagued by forest fires. In Greece, the dry conditions have played a role. But many of the fires, government and forestry experts say, have been set by arsonists, hoping to clear land for development.

"So many fires breaking out simultaneously in so many parts of the country cannot be a coincidence," Mr. Karamanlis said in a nationally televised address Saturday. "The state will do everything it can to find those responsible and punish them."

Already, at least three people have been arrested for setting this weekend's fires; one, accused of setting a blaze that killed six people, is being charged for murder as well as for arson. But in the past, local activists say, the state has had a poor record of catching and prosecuting these types of arsonists. The problem persists, they say, and in large part perpetrators have previously gotten away with it.

"Most of the reasons concern changing of land use from forest to something else [such as] construction, or building, or to grazing, or agriculture," explains Nikos Georgiadis, head forest officer for the Greek office of WWF (the World Wildlife Fund). "But the response from the government has not been effective at all."

But there is beginning to be a backlash against government inaction as Greek villagers desperately battle blazes using garden hoses and buckets of water that is likely to intensify as a result of this weekend's fires.

Earlier this summer, after a fire burned one of the last remaining forests on Mount Parnitha, near Athens, thousands of people took the streets outside the Greek parliament demanding more action from the government to protect forests and ensure that burned areas were replanted.

Many observers saw that fire as a turning point in local politics toward a greater green consciousness.

"People in Athens, but also around Greece, are becoming more green," says Dr. Georgiadis, who said that hundreds of people called the WWF office in the aftermath of that fire, outraged and offering to help. "Since the response that we got after the big forest fire on Parnitha mountain, there is a big change. More and more people became sensitive on environmental matters."

Greece has one of the worst records in the European Union on environmental issues, and on forest protection in particular. Environmental groups say recycling is in its infancy, development is largely unregulated, and protected areas neglected.

Although forested areas cannot legally be built on, that law is difficult to enforce because Greece unlike every other country in the European Union has no national record of what land is forested.

For now, the country is focusing on putting out the blazes and helping those affected. Thousands are now homeless and whole villages destroyed. At least 12 countries have responded to Greece's plea for international help.

But ultimately, says Georgiadis, Greece must develop a long-term plan for saving its natural spaces.

"Forests are an ecosystem that needs time to grow, time to manage," he says. "It's not something you can do in one or two weeks."




Copyright 2007 The Christian Science Monitor
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« Reply #23 on: August 27, 2007, 12:38:12 pm »


Locals escape a huge forest fire raging out of control at Evia, some 60 miles north of Athens, Aug. 26, 2007. Greece battled hundreds of fires across the country that have already claimed more than 50 lives. (Icon/Reuters) By Simon McGregor-Wood






                                                    Greeks Fight Raging Fires


                              Anxious Citizens Call TV Stations For Help As Flames Advance





ATHENS, Greece, Aug. 27, 2007

All across Greece it is ordinary citizens who are fighting this country's worst ever summer of fires.



The fires are moving with devastating speed across a land burnt dry by record temperatures. Flames fanned by driving winds make these fires so deadly. Whole villages can be surrounded within minutes.

In a village called Flixa people called the radio and TV stations to call for help. The village was surrounded and the people were sheltering in the village square. Helicopters have been scrambled to lift them to safety.

Sunday I visited the island of Evia, north of Athens. A new fire started and within minutes a hillside was ablaze, great plumes of thick acrid smoke billowing into the sky. A sunny day suddenly became dark.

We drove on to the village of Mistros which lay in the path of the latest inferno. In the village we met anxious residents. The men had gone to fight the fire. The women remained, huddled nervously in small groups waiting for news.

Suddenly the atmosphere changed. Bad news from the fire, a sudden change of wind, and rumors of tragedy. Several men had been killed.

Panic and grief broke out. Women began to scream. No one knew who had been lost. We were asked to leave.

We met Maria Massuri outside her cottage. She broke down in tears. Her son had volunteered to fight the fire and she had not seen him since. She could not get through on his mobile phone, fearing the worst.

Across Greece there are similar stories of heroism and tragedy, of people left alone to fight the fires...and some paying with their lives.
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« Reply #24 on: August 28, 2007, 05:46:16 am »





                                         Foreign firefighters join Greece battle





By ELENA BECATOROS, Associated Press Writer

 ATHENS, Greece - Foreign firefighters and aircraft joined the battle Tuesday against blazes in southern Greece, and officials expressed optimism that wildfires burning some of the country's lushest landscape could be brought under partial control.
 
The fires, which began about five days ago, have killed at least 64 people and burned olive groves, forests and orchards. Beyond the loss of life and environmental damage, Greece braced for the economic impact of the worst wildfires in memory, with the government budgeting upward of $410 million for immediate relief. The bill was expected to be much higher, the finance ministry said.

The fire department said 56 fires broke out from Monday to Tuesday. The worst were concentrated in the mountains of the Peloponnese in the south and on the island of Evia north of Athens, spokesman Nikos Diamandis said.

He said most of the efforts would be concentrated in those two regions, with most of the firefighters that have arrived from 17 countries operating in the Peloponnese.

In addition to the fires, a strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 4.7 struck southern Greece on Tuesday, the U.S. Geological Survey said. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

The Athens Geodynamic Institute reported that the quake struck about noon and had an epicenter 115 miles west of Athens, or nine miles east of Pyrgos near Ancient Olympia. The quake panicked residents in the region and was felt in areas where firefighters were battling blazes.

Meanwhile, a group of 55 Israeli firefighters would be used to assist in combatting one of the worst fires in Krestena, near Ancient Olympia. Large parts of the world heritage site, which was the birthplace of the Olympic Games, were burned over the weekend.

Diamandis said that 18 planes and 18 helicopters including four from Switzerland would be used in the southern firefighting effort.

"The picture we have gives us some optimism" in the south, Diamandis said. "We have a good picture and hope for some good results."

Diamandis asked people to heed instructions from authorities and evacuate villages when asked to do so. Greece's civil defense agency said there was a high risk of fires around the country Tuesday because of high winds and temperatures, especially in the Athens region.

From the northern border with Albania to the southern island of Crete, fires ravaged forests and farmland. Residents used garden hoses, buckets, tin cans and branches in desperate and sometimes futile attempts to save their homes and livelihoods.

In some villages, firefighters sent helicopters or vehicles to evacuate the residents, only to find people insisting on staying to fight the blaze.

"We are asking people to be calm and to follow orders," Diamandis said.

A helicopter airlifted five people to safety Monday from the village of Prasidaki in southern Greece, fire department spokesman Yiannis Stamoulis said. Another was sent to the village of Frixa, but the residents refused to leave, he said.

The destruction was so extensive that authorities said they had no way of knowing how many acres have burned or how many people had been injured.

New blazes broke out faster than others could be brought under control, leaving behind a devastated landscape of blackened tree trunks, gutted houses and charred animal carcasses.

The destruction and deaths have infuriated Greeks already stunned by deadly forest fires in June and July and appear likely to dominate political debate before early general elections scheduled for Sept. 16. Many blamed the conservative government for failing to respond quickly enough.

___

Associated Press
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« Reply #25 on: August 28, 2007, 02:56:50 pm »







                              Greek wildfires bring wrenching stories of death and survival



   
 
 
 By Petros Giannakouris, AP




A police officer walks by damaged cars and relatives of victims at the scene where at least 19 people lost their lives, in Artemida, Greece, about 206 miles southwest of Athens on Saturday, Aug. 25.
 

 ARTEMIDA, Greece (AP) As the wall of flames swept through the heavily forested mountain toward her home, the mother of four was forced to make a life and death decision should she flee?
Athanasia Paraskevopoulou gathered her three daughters, aged 15, 12 and 10, and her 5-year-old son and headed to the village square. Her husband was elsewhere and as the fire approached she bundled her children into a car.

Firefighters later found their charred remains not far from Artemida, the village they fled Friday, the mother's arms wrapped tightly around her children. Their home survived virtually unscathed, but the family was among at least 63 victims claimed by Greece's worst wildfire disaster in memory.

The 37-year-old teacher from Athens was enjoying the end of the summer holiday in the family's vacation home in this wooded mountain village near the sea when wildfires started breaking out across the Peloponnese peninsula Thursday fires that have since swept over large swathes of the country and scorched world heritage sites such as Ancient Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic Games.

The approaching wildfires struck fear among the 100 or so residents of the village of Artemida, nestled amid the olive groves that were its main source of income.

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Firefighters
"Everyone was in a panic. Within 10 minutes, the fire swept in from the east and was all around us, both above and below the village," said 37-year-old Lambrini Tzevelekou, a friend of Paraskevopoulou's. "They gathered everyone together in the square, Athanasia and her four children, along with two young foreign kids, two grandmothers and four other children, and all left together packed in cars."

"It was horrible," said Tzevelekou's 15-year-old son, Ioannis. "The fire came over like a huge tide."

The convoy of cars sped out of the village and when the vehicles reached a fork in the road, a decision was made to go down toward Zaharo a town about six miles away.

"There were two roads to choose from there was no other alternative out of town. If you went down (the road), you died. If you went on the upper road, you lived," said village president Giorgos Korifas.

According to residents and rescuers, the leading part of the convoy apparently crashed into a fire truck speeding toward the village. The truck overturned, blocking part of the road. With little visibility because of the smoke, the remainder of the convoy slammed into the wreckage and at least four cars burned. Those who survived the pileup, including Paraskevopoulou and her children, fled on foot.

Firefighters later found the charred remains of the mother and children huddled on a hillside near the accident. Nine people died on that road and they were among 23 victims from the region around the village, the largest single group of dead from the wildfires.

Another couple, 70-year-old Panagiotis Lambropoulos and his wife, were more fortunate.

"I saw the flames about 150 meters away. We got in the car, drove about 10 meters, and then the flames suddenly grew huge," he said. "We abandoned the car and crawled through the woods, about 400 meters, arm in arm so that if we died, we would die together."

The couple managed to reach the upper road, and safety.

If Paraskevopoulou had stayed at home, neighbors say the family would have survived.

"Nothing would have happened to them. The few that stayed didn't get injured," said Vassiliki Tzevelekou, another neighbor. "The house has not suffered any damage, but it's better for the house to have been burnt than people."

Lambrini Tzevelekou said her friend "was a very good woman. What has happened was so unlucky."

The decision faced by Paraskevopoulou, to stay or go, was similar to that made by thousands of people trapped unaided in mountain villages. Although Greece has the largest fleet of firefighting planes in Europe, its forces were stretched to the breaking point Friday, the day Paraskevopoulou died, as 124 fires raged around the country many of them near Artemida.

"It is incredible that villagers should abandon their homes by road in convoys without a fire truck to open the way for them, allowing an accident to cause the tragic losses we saw, said Nikos Bokaris, head of the Panhellenic Union of Forestry Experts. "I believe these deaths were due to criminal errors and ignorance of the danger and the circumstances of the blaze."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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« Reply #26 on: August 29, 2007, 08:56:51 am »









                                               Anger over fires clouds Greek election





By PATRICK QUINN, Associated Press Writer

 


ATHENS, Greece - Improved weather conditions on Wednesday helped thousands of firefighters, including hundreds from neighboring countries, bring under control dozens of massive fires that ravaged Greece over the past week and killed at least 64 people, authorities said.
 
Meanwhile, hundreds of people who lost homes, property, farms and livestock crowded into banks in southern Greece to receive up to $17,732 in aid promised immediately by the conservative government, which has been buffeted by allegations that it mishandled the fires. Polls indicated growing anger with the government ahead of early elections announced by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis for Sept. 16.

There were no initial estimates so far on the cost to Greece's economy from the fires, which began late Thursday and have so far destroyed a large part of the southern Peloponnese peninsula where most of the blazes were concentrated.

Cooler temperatures and abating winds began allowing the fire department to corral most fires into smaller more controllable blazes, Fire Department spokesman Nikos Diamandis said.

"From the first day that these large fires took hold of the country we had emphasized the need for the weather conditions to become our ally, even if only for 24 hours. This alliance took place yesterday," Diamandis said.

The fire department said that in northern Greece, at least two fires were burning out of control near the border with Albania, while on the hard struck island of Evia north of Athens all fires were under control.

In the southern Peloponnese peninsula, the fire department said it had managed to contain the fires.

A succession of heat waves since early summer and winds often of gale force had turned much of Greece into a tinderbox and hampered efforts to extinguish fires, which often erupted as fast as they were put out.

The fire department has not announced an overall damage assessment, but independent estimates say around 495,000 acres of forest, olive groves and scrub may have been consumed the worst since official records started in the 1950s.

Although there have been no cost estimates so far, production from the destroyed areas make up only about 4.5 percent of Greece's gross domestic product placing them among the poorest in per capita production. The areas are mostly agricultural, but also have significant service industries mostly tourism followed by some industrial production.

In the city of Pyrgos, hundreds of people crowded into bank branches to take advantage of a government promise to give them aid just by signing a single piece of paper vouching that the fires had damaged or destroyed their property.

"The prime minister ordered the abolition of all bureaucratic procedures that for years have been needed to receive aid in case of disaster," government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said.

The Finance Ministry also announced it was suspending Value Added Tax payments_ a form of sales tax and outstanding income and corporate taxes in afflicted areas for six months and a ban on seizures of property for outstanding debts.

Although the government has already budgeted more than $400 million for such aid, the finance ministry has said the cost was expected to be much higher.

The fires are dominating political debate before the elections. Criticism that the government failed to respond fast enough and its suggestions the fires resulted from an organized attack could hurt Karamanlis.

Firefighting efforts Wednesday remained concentrated on the island of Evia and Peloponnese. But Diamandis said all major blazes were "generally receding."

"There is a serious danger for the next several days that fires will rekindle, so major firefighting resources will remain deployed," he said.

Most of the firefighters sent by 21 countries were operating in the Peloponnese, he said.

The devastation infuriated Greeks, who already had been stunned by deadly forest fires in June and July.

A nationwide opinion poll conducted Aug. 26-27 indicated support for the conservatives had slipped by 1.6 points in the last week, to 35.2 percent still 2 points ahead of main opposition Socialist Party.

The MRB survey for private Alpha television, announced late Tuesday, projected bolstered support for three smaller opposition parties, suggesting a slim majority for Karamanlis' conservatives, who had 164 deputies in the last 300-seat parliament.

The survey of 1,309 adults had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.55 percentage points.

___

Associated Press Writer Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed this report.
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« Reply #27 on: August 30, 2007, 07:04:54 am »









                                                  1 big blaze left in Greece





By ELENA BECATOROS,
Associated Press Writer
40 minutes ago
 
ANDRITSENA, Greece - After a week of battling raging wildfires that cutoff villages, killed 64 people and burned nearly 500,000 acres of land, fire department officials said Thursday that just one major blaze remained to bring under control.
 
Fears remained, however, that a new heatwave accompanied by strong winds that were expected during the weekend could feed smaller fires or rekindle those that smoldered around the country.

According to the fire department, the last remaining major blaze is burning outside of Karytaina in the southern Peloponnese peninsula, and is being fought by at least four planes and dozens of fire trucks. At least five villages in the area were evacuated late Wednesday.

In the tiny village of Kato Kotyli, three miles east of Karytaina, a handful of residents stayed behind overnight, hosing down their houses.

In other parts of the Peloponnese, where 57 of the deaths were recorded, all the fronts were contained and firefighters, backed by more than 20 water-dropping aircraft, were extinguishing lingering blazes.

Their success was attributed in part to a drop in the winds, which often blew with the force of a gale, and a significant drop in temperatures. Temperatures also dropped to about 82 degrees in the region, compared with 106 on Aug. 24, the day the fires raged unchecked.

But the weather service said there was a new heatwave forecast for the end of the week.

With most fires seemingly under control, the conservative government has focused on a vast relief effort, less than three weeks before national elections on Sept. 16.

Thousands of people again lined up outside banks to receive emergency aid and the government said that 7,500 people had already received $33 million on Wednesday, the first day the funds were handed out. Each person has so far received about $4,400 and stand to receive another $13,600 as a first step. To receive the funds, people only needed to submit a written declaration that they had lost their house or farm. They will be eligible for additional funds depending on how much farmland, olive grove, crops or livestock they lost.

In the Peloponnese, the inferno destroyed hundreds of homes in dozens of villages, fragile mountain ecosystems that will require decades to revive and an entire rural way of life in some of the peninsula's afflicted areas, threatening to turn thousands of villagers into environmental refugees.

The flames even damaged parts of the 2,800-year-old World Heritage site of Ancient Olympia, birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games and the place where the Olympic Flame is lit for the summer and winter games.

Late Wednesday, more than 10,000 people, mostly dressed in black and bearing banners reading "No to the destruction of nature" gathered outside the house of parliament in central Athens to silently protest the destruction. Some demonstrators booed and taunted riot police, who responded by throwing stun grenades.

Up to 469,000 acres were laid waste between last Friday and Tuesday alone 10 times the annual average for the past 50 years, according to the European Commission's European Forest Fire Information System, or EFFIS. There has been no estimate on how much additional acreage has been burned in the past two days.

A total of 679,000 acres an area almost the size Rhode Island has burned since the start of the year.

Arson has been widely blamed in the blazes. Six people have been charged with deliberately setting fires.

The fires are dominating political debate before the elections. Criticism that the government failed to respond quickly enough and its suggestions the fires resulted from an organized attack could hurt Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.

A series of polls have indicated that Karamanlis' governing conservative party lost much of the popularity it enjoyed when the prime minister called early elections on Aug. 16 and indicated that it was now about equal with George Papandreou's main opposition Socialist party.

A helpline set up for fire victims has received more than 40,000 calls so far, mostly from volunteers who want to contribute aid, Deputy Finance Minister Petros Doukas said. Government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said that private donations from Greeks so far amounted to more than $52 million. The European Union may also provide funds at a later date after damages are calculated.

A special fund, run by former Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis, will administer state and private funds and donations.

"We hope to alleviate the suffering of those victims and we will also try to restore the area around Ancient Olympia," he said.

Although the government has already budgeted about $450 million for such aid, the Finance Ministry has said the cost was expected to be much higher. The government has not yet given an estimate.

___

Associated Press Writers Patrick Quinn and Nicholas Paphitis in Athens contributed to this report.



AP - Wed Aug 29, 7:12 PM ET Forest burns on a hill as the moon is seen behind smoke near the village of Kato Kotili, central Peloponnese, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) southwest of Athens, Greece, early Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007. Winds relented throughout Greece Wednesday, enabling thousands of firefighters to tame most of the massive fires that killed at least 64 people and obliterated record swaths of fields and forests over six days. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris) Email Photo Print Photo
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« Reply #28 on: August 31, 2007, 07:55:31 am »









                                              All major Greek fires under control





By PATRICK QUINN, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 21 minutes ago
 
ATHENS, Greece - All major blazes in Greece were under control Friday, and firefighters were working to extinguish smaller fires in the southern part of the country.
 
One week after hundreds of wildfires broke out across Greece, killing 64 people and costing the country at least $1.6 billion, the fire department said the last major fire near the town of Kato Kotyli "no longer has an active front and is receding."

But it warned in an announcement that just because "we are in a phase where fires are receding, that does not mean that the danger has been eliminated."

Meanwhile, thousands of people lined up outside banks for a third day to receive emergency aid, and the government said 20,000 people received a total of $98 million since banks started to hand out the funds Wednesday.

But officials said they would tighten checks on the fast-track aid process after at least 15 people from other parts of the country were arrested in the southwestern city of Pyrgos for allegedly making false claims.

Initial government estimates indicate at least 1,500 homes were gutted in the southern Peloponnese peninsula and on the island of Evia, just north of Athens. But there are concerns that figure could double. At least 4,000 people were left homeless, but that number also could double.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who faces a close race for re-election in less than three weeks, promised to rebuild all homes destroyed by the fires through a new disaster relief fund made up of state and private contributions. He said homeless families would initially be provided with prefabricated homes.

Karamanlis did not say how much that would cost.

The European Commissioner for Regional Policy, Danuta Hubner, was expected to tour the burned regions Friday to assess how much aid Greece needed.

A help line set up for fire victims and offers of help has received tens of thousands of calls so far, mostly from people who want to contribute aid. Government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said private donations from Greeks has amounted to more than $52 million. The government has so far budgeted around $450 million for such aid.

The fires are dominating political debate before the Sept. 16 elections. Criticism that the government failed to respond quickly enough and its suggestions the fires resulted from an organized attack could hurt Karamanlis.

A series of polls have indicated that the conservatives had a razor-thin margin over George Papandreou's main opposition Socialist Party.
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« Reply #29 on: September 02, 2007, 10:16:59 am »


Flowers at the site where people
succumbed to the fires







                                            Greece hopes autumn rains will end 10-day fires





By Lefteris Papadimas
Sun Sep 2, 6:32 AM ET
 
ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's first autumn rains on Sunday raised hopes of dousing forest fires that have killed 63 people while a grieving village buried a mother and her four children who perished in the flames.
 
Firefighters were still battling blazes, mainly in the southern Peloponnese region, but rains in northern Greece were heading south and could help, the fire brigade said.

"We are expecting some rains in the Peloponnese but we are not certain they will be intense enough to put out the fires," said fire brigade spokeswoman Sofia Mendi. "Today is a critical day because we have strong winds."

In the village of Artemida, perched on a charred Peloponnese mountain, locals held the funeral of the mother found dead still clutching her children, the most tragic image of the inferno's trail of destruction.

"Our only hope is that they did not suffer too much, that they died from the smoke," said a distraught relative who declined to be named.

The fires have raged for 10 days, forcing thousands to flee their homes, burning villages and large swathes of forest.

The conservative government has come under criticism for its handling of the crisis ahead of parliamentary elections on September 16.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who has blamed arsonists for the fires, has called for national unity. His administration has doled out at least 107 million euros ($146.2 million) in compensation.

"It can't be a coincidence," he told the Kathimerini paper on Sunday, vowing again to punish the culprits. "Facts, eyewitnesses and police findings indicate intent."

The opposition socialist PASOK party has criticized the government but seems unable to capitalize on its woes.

Opinion polls show the ruling New Democracy party holding a 2 percentage point lead over PASOK but support for both parties has waned since the fires began.

The fires nearly destroyed ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympics, and their damage to the economy is estimated at 1.2 billion to 4 billion euros.

The European Commission said it could provide up to 200 million euros from a 'solidarity fund'.

Many Greeks believe rogue land developers set fires to make way for new construction. The World Conservation Union (IUCN), a Geneva-based global network of state and non-governmental groups, said inadequate rural planning had made the fires almost inevitable.

"Greece... will continue to face these crises year after year until legal and institutional issues pertaining to land development, changes in rural demographics and the collapse of traditional farming practices are addressed," said IUCN's Bill Jackson.
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