Greek fires: seven on arson charges

Greek fires: seven on arson charges

29 August 2007

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Greece — Greek firefighters battled devastating bushfires for a fifth day yesterday amid suspicions arsonists started the blazes which have killed more than 60 people.

Seven people have been charged with arson and 26 more were charged with offences linked to a series of fires that have blighted Greece since a heatwave started last month.

A growing international fleet of water-bombing aircraft is helping an army of firefighters in what the European Union has described as the biggest ever offer of emergency assistance to a member state.

Many parts of the worst-hit area, the mountainous southern peninsula of Peloponnese, were still on fire, though firefighters said villages were not in immediate danger.

“The fires are still out of control,” a fire service spokesman said.

The destruction was so extensive that authorities said they had no way of knowing how much had burnt — or how many people had been injured.

New blazes broke out faster than others could be brought under control, leaving behind a landscape of blackened tree trunks, gutted houses and charred animal carcasses.

An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of five added to the misery. It struck 180km west of Athens. There were no immediate reports of serious damage or injuries.

At least 64 people have died in the fires since Friday, mainly in Peloponnese when they were trapped by flames in isolated villages.

New fires broke out in the western district of Aitoloakarnania and farther north in Thesprotia, fanned by winds of up 70kmh.

Fires were also still burning in forests on Evia, an island north of Athens, where four people have died.

Greek authorities believe many of the fires were started deliberately. Some commentators said one possible motive for arson could be that unscrupulous property developers were hoping to build villas in the areas where forest had been destroyed.

Greece also braced for the economic impact of the bushfires, with the Government setting aside nearly 330 million euros ($552 million) for immediate relief.

With Greeks set to go to the polls on September 16, the Socialist opposition criticised conservative Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’ handling of the disaster.

But a defiant Mr Karamanlis, whose party is favourite to win the general election, said the country was facing an unprecedented crisis.

The international community has swung into action. France, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Turkey sent water-bombing planes while Israel sent 55 firefighters and three helicopters.

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