Friday, August 24, 2007

Greek fires claim 12 lives:worst blazes to hit the country in a decade

Mark Tran and agencies
Friday August 24, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

Twelve people died today as fires raged out of control in southern Greece in some of the worst blazes to hit the country in a decade, caused by high temperatures, drought and arsonists.

As several villages were evacuated, the fire department said at least six people were killed when they were trapped in their cars near the village of Komotheika in the western Peloponnese. Earlier, six people died to the southeast in another massive fire near the town of Areopolis, 190 miles south of Athens.

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"The situation is extremely dire," the mayor of the coastal town of Zacharo, Pantazis Chronopoulos, told reporters. "The speed with which this fire has been spreading is astonishing."

Dozens of villages asked for help, from the Peloponnese's western coast to the southern region of Mani some 50 miles further east, as strong winds fanned the fires.

The government announced a state of emergency in the provinces of Lakonia and Messinia, where six aircraft and seven helicopters were deployed, along with dozens of fire engines.

Police said they were evacuating Areopolis and the nearby villages. The interior ministry called an emergency meeting to coordinate firefighting and rescue efforts.

The government's popularity has been hit as the public blamed it for failures to stop the fires, which have reached the outskirts of Athens and destroyed much of the nearby Mount Parnitha nature reserve in the past two months.

Greeks go to the polls on September 16.

"Unfortunately we are experiencing another great environmental disaster in our country," said Yannis Ragousis, spokesman for the socialist opposition party, PASOK.

Greece's weather service said the winds were expected to weaken late in the evening. Other firefighters were attacking smaller fires near the towns of Elefsina to the west of Athens and Lagonissi to the east, with two planes and two helicopters.

Dozens of other fires broke out across the country as winds picked up after a three-day heatwave that saw temperatures rise to 41C (106F).

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