Mon, Aug 27, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Arrests made as Greek fires rage on

CULTURAL HERITAGE The flames were within 5km of the archeological site of Mount Olympus yesterday and authorities mobilized some soldiers to patrol the site


Fires tore through parched forests and swallowed villages across Greece, bearing down on villages near Mount Olympus in the south a day after the government declared a nationwide state of emergency. At least 51 people were dead and three people were arrested on suspicion of arson.

The worst infernos were concentrated in the mountains of the Peloponnese in southern Greece and on the island of Evia north of Athens.

The flames were within 5km of the archeological site of Mount Olympus, where authorities evacuated several nearby villages and mobilized some 50 soldiers and volunteers to patrol the site to prevent the worst from happening.

Desperate residents in nearby villages appeared on TV to appeal for help.

"We're going to burn alive here," one woman told Greek television from the village of Lambeti.

She said residents were using garden hoses in a desperate attempt to save their homes.

Church bells rang out in the village of Kolyri near Ancient Olympia as panicked residents tried to gather their belongings and flee through the night, said one man who called the TV station.

After first light, firefighting planes began dropping water in the area, and Ancient Olympia mayor Giorgos Aidonis said the ancient site was no longer in imminent peril.

"We are among the lucky," he said. "Ancient Olympia is not in danger at the moment."

But other areas were still being consumed by flames, with much of the Peloponnese ablaze and one front bearing down a mountain slope towards the southern city of Kalamata.

On Saturday, new fronts had emerged as dozens of fresh fires broke out -- including some blamed on arson.

Another blaze broke out in the area of Kalyvia, between Athens and the ancient site of Sounion to the south.

Nearly 1,000 soldiers and military helicopters reinforced firefighters stretched to the limit by the country's worst summer of wildfires.

In the most ravaged area -- a string of mountain villages in southern Greece -- rescue crews picked through a grim aftermath that spoke of last-minute desperation as the fires closed in.

Dozens of charred bodies were found across fields, homes, along roads and in cars, including the remains of a mother hugging her four children.

By sea and by land, authorities evacuated hundreds of people trapped by the flames.

Senior Health Ministry official Panagiotis Efstathiou said on Saturday that the bodies of 49 people who died because of the fires had been taken to hospitals.

There were fears the toll could increase as rescue crews searched recently burned areas.

The fires have been so severe that authorities said that they could not yet give an estimate of how much damage the blazes had caused, nor what expanse of land had been burned.

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