Greece fires kill 57


Summary

At least 57 people have been killed in the Greece's worst wildfires in living memory, but officials say the site of Ancient Olympia has escaped the flames.

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The latest victims were five people killed on the Aegean island of Euboea,

including two volunteer firefighters, said the fire service.

VIDEO: Arsonists suspected

They perished in the central Mystro region near Eretria on the island'ssouthern coast. Another two people were injured.

There were fears the death toll could rise as new fires broke out and strong winds pushed flames through villages and hamlets.

Olympia

One front of fire reached Ancient Olympia in southern Greece, burning trees and shrubs near the museum inside the 2,800-year-old site, birthplace of the Olympic games.

Police blocked roads, and firefighting planes flew overhead.

"The winds are so strong that I don't know whether the site's sprinkling system will stop it," said Costas Sofianos, deputy mayor of Ancient Olympia.

Although the sprinkler system had been activated, not all of it appeared to be functioning.

Trees and shrubs near the museum in the site were burned, but a massive firefighting effort appeared to have prevented the ruins from becoming engulfed.

"We don't know exactly how much damage there is in the Olympia area, but the important thing is that the museum is as it was and the archaeological site will not have any problem," Culture Minister George Voulgarakis said.

Five fire trucks were protecting the museum, said Christos Zahopoulos, the culture ministry's general secretary.

People fled in panic from hotels and villages near the ancient site.

"Our target is for the fire not to enter Ancient Olympia, not to destroy antiquities," said the fire department's Diamandis.

The fire began approaching Ancient Olympia overnight, and church bells rang out in the nearby village of Kolyri before dawn as residents gathered their belongings and fled through the night.

Villagers returned to find at least seven gutted houses.

Widespread destruction

Fotis Hadzopoulos, a resident, said the evacuation was chaotic.

The worst of Greece's fires — 42 major fronts — have been concentrated in the mountains of the Peloponnese in southern Greece and on the island of Evia north of Athens.

New fires also broke out today in the central region of Fthiotida — one of the few areas that had been unscathed, Mr Diamandis said.

Arson has been blamed in several cases, and seven people have been detained.

The fire also blazed into the nearby village of Varvasaina, destroying several houses. As residents rushed to battle the flames, others, stunned, walked the streets holding their heads in their hands.

Across the country, churchgoers prayed for the blazes to abate.

Elsewhere, flames were about three km from the Temple of Apollo Epikourios, a 2,500-year-old monument near the town of Andritsaina in the south-western Peloponnese, said the town's mayor, Tryphon Athanassopoulos.

A separate blaze had abated today in Kalyvia, an area between Athens and the ancient site of Sounion to the south.

Race against the flames

Nearly 1,000 soldiers, backed by military helicopters, reinforced firefighters stretched to the limit. At least 12 countries were sending aid, and six water-dropping planes from France and Italy joined operations yesterday.

In the ravaged mountain villages in the Peloponnese, rescue crews on Saturday picked through a grim aftermath 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, including the remains of a mother hugging her four children.

The worst-affected region was around the town of Zaharo, south of Ancient Olympia. Thick smoke, which blocked out the summer sun, could be seen more than 100 km away.

The blaze broke out on Friday and quickly engulfed villages, trapping dozens of people and killing at least 37.

Scores of people were treated in hospitals for burns and breathing problems.

The government, which has declared a nationwide state of emergency, said today it would offer up to euro10,000 ($A16,600) to people who lost relatives or property.


At least 57 people have been killed in the Greece's worst wildfires in living memory, but officials say the site of Ancient Olympia has escaped the flames.

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The latest victims were five people killed on the Aegean island of Euboea,

including two volunteer firefighters, said the fire service.

VIDEO: Arsonists suspected

They perished in the central Mystro region near Eretria on the island'ssouthern coast. Another two people were injured.

There were fears the death toll could rise as new fires broke out and strong winds pushed flames through villages and hamlets.

Olympia

One front of fire reached Ancient Olympia in southern Greece, burning trees and shrubs near the museum inside the 2,800-year-old site, birthplace of the Olympic games.

Police blocked roads, and firefighting planes flew overhead.

"The winds are so strong that I don't know whether the site's sprinkling system will stop it," said Costas Sofianos, deputy mayor of Ancient Olympia.

Although the sprinkler system had been activated, not all of it appeared to be functioning.

Trees and shrubs near the museum in the site were burned, but a massive firefighting effort appeared to have prevented the ruins from becoming engulfed.

"We don't know exactly how much damage there is in the Olympia area, but the important thing is that the museum is as it was and the archaeological site will not have any problem," Culture Minister George Voulgarakis said.

Five fire trucks were protecting the museum, said Christos Zahopoulos, the culture ministry's general secretary.

People fled in panic from hotels and villages near the ancient site.

"Our target is for the fire not to enter Ancient Olympia, not to destroy antiquities," said the fire department's Diamandis.

The fire began approaching Ancient Olympia overnight, and church bells rang out in the nearby village of Kolyri before dawn as residents gathered their belongings and fled through the night.

Villagers returned to find at least seven gutted houses.

Widespread destruction

Fotis Hadzopoulos, a resident, said the evacuation was chaotic.

The worst of Greece's fires — 42 major fronts — have been concentrated in the mountains of the Peloponnese in southern Greece and on the island of Evia north of Athens.

New fires also broke out today in the central region of Fthiotida — one of the few areas that had been unscathed, Mr Diamandis said.

Arson has been blamed in several cases, and seven people have been detained.

The fire also blazed into the nearby village of Varvasaina, destroying several houses. As residents rushed to battle the flames, others, stunned, walked the streets holding their heads in their hands.

Across the country, churchgoers prayed for the blazes to abate.

Elsewhere, flames were about three km from the Temple of Apollo Epikourios, a 2,500-year-old monument near the town of Andritsaina in the south-western Peloponnese, said the town's mayor, Tryphon Athanassopoulos.

A separate blaze had abated today in Kalyvia, an area between Athens and the ancient site of Sounion to the south.

Race against the flames

Nearly 1,000 soldiers, backed by military helicopters, reinforced firefighters stretched to the limit. At least 12 countries were sending aid, and six water-dropping planes from France and Italy joined operations yesterday.

In the ravaged mountain villages in the Peloponnese, rescue crews on Saturday picked through a grim aftermath 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, including the remains of a mother hugging her four children.

The worst-affected region was around the town of Zaharo, south of Ancient Olympia. Thick smoke, which blocked out the summer sun, could be seen more than 100 km away.

The blaze broke out on Friday and quickly engulfed villages, trapping dozens of people and killing at least 37.

Scores of people were treated in hospitals for burns and breathing problems.

The government, which has declared a nationwide state of emergency, said today it would offer up to euro10,000 ($A16,600) to people who lost relatives or property.