A German tourist was killed and dozens of people were hospitalized with breathing problems and burns yesterday, as a fire raged in northern Greece, forcing an overnight evacuation of hotels and holiday homes, authorities said.
Several thousand people fled the blaze on the Halkidiki peninsula -- popular with European vacationers -- which destroyed or seriously damaged more than 50 homes and dozens of cars.
Fire officials said there had been indications of arson.
"This is a major fire, and a disaster has been declared in the area. With the daylight, firefighting planes are being used and that is helping this effort," said Giorgos Kalatzis, minister for Greece's Macedonia and Thrace administrative regions.
Ten water-bombing planes and helicopters began assisting the effort at first light, as more than 250 firefighters and soldiers battled the fire that swept over rugged terrain, fanned by gusts of wind and temperatures reaching 40?C.
Police said a German tourist had drowned while trying to escape a fire-stricken area by boat.
Earlier, coast guard and private boats picked up stranded tourists and local residents from beaches in the Cassandra area.
Kalatzis said he hoped the fire could be contained later yesterday.
The fire burned out of control on two main fronts, about 80km south of Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city.
At least 50 people -- mostly Greeks -- were hospitalized with breathing problems, and several people were being treated for burns.
Nearly 1,200 people were transported by coast guard vessels away from the fire, the Merchant Marine Ministry said.
Ian Whitting, deputy head of mission at the British Embassy in Athens, said around 600 people had been evacuated and that the embassy was working with tour operators to help vacationers return early if they wanted to.
"We have had no reports of casualties and no requests at all for consular assistance," he told Britain's Sky Television. "But we obviously take this very seriously, that is why we are working closely with tour operators to make sure everyone is accounted for as soon as possible."
Hundreds of tourists spent the night on the beach, while others were taken to temporary shelters.