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Forest fires kill 17 in Greece as villages are overcome

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published August 25, 2007


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ATHENS, Greece - Forest fires raced across southern Greece on Friday, sweeping into mountainous towns and villages and killing at least 17 people - two found locked in an embrace and others outside cars overtaken by the flames.

Hot, dry winds gusting to gale force prevented firefighting planes from taking off, leaving only ground forces to fight the flames in the southern Peloponnese, occasionally helped by helicopters and residents using their garden hoses. Many people were feared trapped in villages.

Andonis Krespis, deputy mayor of the town of Zaharo, said he and others tried to flee the flames through a field, some abandoning their cars to run on foot. He escaped with burns on his face, but at least 10 people, including three firefighters, died near the western Peloponnese town, fire department spokesman Nikos Diamandis said. All were found near or in their vehicles.

"I counted about seven people dead," Krespis told Alter television from his hospital bed.

Another person was found dead between two villages in the area, and an unknown number of civilians and firefighters were injured, Diamandis said.

The town's mayor, Pantazis Chronopoulos, said he also barely escaped the blaze and feared the death toll could rise.

A three-day heat wave, with temperatures up to 104 degrees, has left forests and scrubland parched on the peninsula divided from the Greek mainland by a narrow isthmus.

The government appealed to European Union countries to "send any help they can," acting Interior Minister Spyros Flogaitis said after an emergency meeting of Greece's civil protection authority.

Several homes went up in flames. Residents and local officials called television stations and pleaded for help. One woman said she was among about 20 people, including children, trapped in the village of Rodina.

Dozens of soldiers were helping the firefighters, and the military was sending 500 more troops and several helicopters at first light today, Diamandis said. At least five villages were evacuated.

In the rugged mountains of the southern Peloponnese, three major fires continued burning out of control on Friday evening: one near Areopolis, one on Mount Taigetos and another on Mount Parnonas to the east. Authorities declared a state of emergency in two areas.

Major roads, including the highway between Sparta and the town of Kalamata in the south, were closed. Local television footage showed residents with garden hoses joining firefighters to battle the flames.

[Last modified August 24, 2007, 22:58:28]


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