ANCIENT SITE OF OLYMPIA, MONUMENTS THREATENED NEAR ATHENS, AS EU FIRE-FIGHTERS ARRIVE TO ASSIST
Fires across Greece have taken at least 51 lives over three days, and the government has declared a state of emergency in all parts of the country. Media, ministries, and scientists are attempting to understand how so many forest- and brush-fires could appear in so many places so quickly. The southern Peloponnese peninsula has been called the “epicenter” of the catastrophe, with fires now threatening major ancient monuments and the capital, Athens.
Scenes from Greece have circulated on the internet and on television news across Europe and the world, showing rural communities displaced and wiped out. Whole villages have been forced to evacuate, abandoning homes, businesses and livestock to the flames.
The government is said to be searching for potential signs of arson, as the frequency of the blazes suggests error or malicious intent on the part of human beings. At least three people have been detained on charges of arson and/or murder relating to the fires.
The BBC reports “There were at least three arrests of people suspected of arson, and reports of cotton wool found soaked in petrol. The suspects included a man in his 60s, as well as two youths.” Timothy Huff, a former FBI profiler specializing in arson told the BBC “Generally about 30% of human-caused wildfires are deliberately set”.
Huff has investigated hundreds of cases of fire, both in California and elsewhere, and suggests six generic motives for arsonists, as listed by the BBC: “revenge, excitement, profit, vandalism, extremism, and to cover another crime.”
There is word investigators may be looking at whether developers have attempted to use the blazes to clear land which would otherwise not be available for sale or commercial development. Such allegations have emerged in other European countries in recent years. Last August more than 100 fires were burning simultaneously across Galicia and northern Portugal.
The government of PM Costas Karamanlis is attempting to use the state of emergency to mobilize fire-brigades and military assistance across the nation. Reuters reports “Fire brigades evacuated villages near Olympia, site of the first Olympic Games, as flames pushed up to the outskirts of the historic site on Greece’s southern Peloponnese peninsula.”
After three days of battling the flames, fire brigades spokesman Nikos Diamandis, who spoke of the effort to save ancient Olympia, told the press “Despite our efforts, there has been no progress”. Press reports suggest 90 firefighters deployed in the area.
Reuters also reported “Towering walls of flame have cut a swathe of destruction through the Peloponnese and swept across other regions,” while the inferno has “bathed Athens in white ash, forced thousands to flee their villages and burned about 500 homes and thousands of acres of forest and farmland.”
UPDATE, 26 August 2006, 23:35 GMT: Sunday 5 additional bodies have been located, bringing the total of people confirmed killed by the forest fires to 56. Numerous reports of families missing loved ones have circulated; authorities are trying to reconcile reports of missing persons to bodies found, even as some evacuated areas have not been searched. [s]