Sun, Aug 26, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Death toll in Greece rises to 37

OUT OF CONTROL In the Peloponnese, villages were surrounded by walls of flames, trapping desperate residents who called TV and radio stations for help

AP , ATHENS

A shrine is seen in front of a fire in the village of Kato Samika, about 320km southwest of Athens, early yesterday. An unprecedented wave of massive fires fanned by gale-force winds raged out of control across Greece on Friday, sweeping into towns and villages. At least 37 people have died in the fires.

PHOTO: AP

The death toll from forest fires that have raged uncontrolled across vast swathes of southern Greece increased yesterday morning to 37 people, the fire department said.

Most of the deaths -- at least 20 -- occurred in the western Peloponnese near the town of Zaharo, where firefighters were searching through charred houses after daybreak, the department said.

Among the dead were believed to be a mother and her four children who had been reported missing, it said.

To the southeast, another six people lost their lives in a fire near the town of Areohoro in Laconia Province, the department said.

News reports also said another 10 bodies were found in the western Peloponnese.

A reporter for ERT state television said she heard Zacharo mayor Pantazis Chronopoulos saying that the 10, four of them children, were found on the roadside.

Throughout Friday and into the night, more than 170 fires raged across the country, from the western Ionian islands to Ioannina in northwestern Greece and down to the south.

With at least 25 fires starting long after dark -- including one in a park in a wealthy neighborhood of Athens -- authorities said they were looking into the possibility of arson.

In the Peloponnese to the south, villages were reported to have been surrounded by walls of flames, trapping desperate residents who telephoned television and radio stations and appealed for help.

The most devastating -- and deadly -- fire was in the Zaharo area, where nine of those killed -- including the three firefighters -- died after a car crashed into a fire truck and led to a pile up as panicky residents tried to flee the area.

At dawn, the smoldering remains of the fire truck could be seen overturned in a gully off the road and the charred wreckage of cars and a motorbike lay strewn across the road.

At least 35 houses were burned in the small villages of Makistro and Artemida, where little vegetation remained on charred hillsides.

Fanned by stiff winds, flames raced through tinder-dry forests from the Peloponnese in the south to northern Greece.

After being grounded overnight by darkness, water-dropping helicopters and airplanes were being redeployed yesterday.

Scores of firemen were backed by hundreds of soldiers to fight the countryside fires, but in many cases their efforts were overwhelmed by choking smoke and heat from the towering flames. Firefighting aircraft were being deployed yesterday across the country after being grounded during the nighttime hours, while high winds hindered their efforts on Friday.

New fire fronts erupted frequently, with winds carrying sparks across roads. Arson was suspected in many of the fires.

State-run and private television channels reported throughout the night on the firefighting efforts. A headline in Ethnos newspaper said: "National tragedy," while Ta Nea said: "Fire nightmare without end."

Officials warned that large swathes of the country, from the southern island of Crete across much of the islands and mainland, remained at high risk as near gale-force winds were expected to continue through much of the weekend over most of the country.

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