Greece: Worst fires on record : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

ATHENS, Saturday, August 26, 2000 Updated: 08/26/2000 10:51 GMT

Worst fires on record Seven deaths bring total to 12 this year, nearly 400,000 acres destroyed

A local volunteer firefighter rests for a moment to survey the flames sweeping up a forested hillside on the slopes of Mount Mainalon in Arcadia, central Peloponnese yesterday. The fire has been burning in the heart of the peninsula since Sunday, forcing a state of emergency to be declared and the evacuation of many villages. With summer still far from over, the hot dry weather and high winds have already made this the worst year in a century, in terms of the damage caused by forest fires and the number of lives they have claimed. Twelve people have died so far this year, exceeding the death toll of 11 in the summer of 1993, and more than 1.5 million stremmas (nearly 400,000 acres) have been burned, exceeding the 1.054 million stremmas of 1985.

Interior Minister Vasso Papandreou, who with Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis has been coordinating the fire fighting effort and flying around the country, said yesterday that she was not satisfied by the result of the state machinery's efforts and suggested that the current forest-protection model might have to be changed. "There is an extensive mobilization of all forces but this does not appear to be enough," Papandreou said. "We call on all citizens to help at this critical moment for our country."

Firefighters announced yesterday that they had found five more bodies in addition to those of an elderly couple who were burned to death in the yard of their home in Aghia Marina on Thursday, after they apparently ignored an order to evacuate the village. The other dead, also in the northwestern region bordering with Albania - from which a massive fire came raging on Thursday - were elderly women, with the exception of one who was 45.

In the south, a fire in the heart of the Peloponnese province of Arcadia which began on Sunday continued to burn yesterday, destroying thousands of acres of forest and forcing a state of emergency and the evacuation of many villages. Major fires were reported in another 11 parts of the country.

From Thursday morning to yesterday afternoon, the whole of the country's firefighting resources were mobilized to deal with 176 fires. Firemen have been working for 82 days without break and planes have been flying continuously to deal with the plague of fires. One fireman who collapsed on Thursday was filmed by television cameras crying that he had had nothing to drink and was dehydrated from fighting fires all the time. "I am not Superman," he cried. Three pilots have died in crashes while fighting fires and two firefighters have been burned to death this year.

Greece issued an international appeal for help and, for the second time in the last few weeks, Israel has agreed to send a firefighting team. A C-130 military transport is expected to arrive today with 60 Israeli Air Force members and two Sikorsky helicopters. Neighboring countries are battling major fires of their own and cannot send help.

Officials have repeatedly voiced suspicion that many of the fires are the work of arsonists and this year 31 people have been arrested on suspicion of starting fires. Yesterday a shepherd from the Tripoli area was charged with lighting the Arcadia blaze.

-- Martin Thompson (, August 27, 2000

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