Greece fires 'under control', cost being counted

Forest fires which began tearing through Greece a week ago are under control, firefighters said, as villagers whose homes and land were engulfed by flames began counting the cost.

Greece fires 'under control', cost being counted
Forest fires which began tearing through Greece a week ago are under control, firefighters said, as villagers whose homes and land were engulfed by flames began counting the cost.

Firefighters said they had succeeded in limiting the fiercest remaining fires to several areas of the southern Peloponnese peninsula, where most of the 63 victims from this national disaster have lost their lives since August 24.

Blazes in the other main trouble spot, Evia island north of Athens, were reducing in intensity as night fell on Wednesday.

"We are optimistic about the outcome of our fight against the fires," the official fire service spokesman Nikolaos Diamantis said.

Hot winds that have been fanning the flames dropped, but firefighters warned fires could re-kindle if the winds picked up.

As the blazes were gradually extinguished, angry Greeks asked how they had been allowed to wreak such widespread destruction.

The government has blamed arsonists and arrested more than 30 people — many Greeks believe fires were started in parched forests to clear land for unauthorised construction.

An estimated crowd of 10,000 black-clad demonstrators gathered in the main square of Athens on Wednesday to vent their anger at what they saw as the authorities' complicity in the disaster.

"Not just the current government but successive governments have neglected the environment and passed laws which have encouraged people to build illegally," said Yiannis Sakellavidis, 29, a university researcher who was among the protesters.

"I am sure the government will not do anything when people start to build on the land where the forest has burned," he added.

Environmentalists said poor upkeep of the forests and an ill-equipped fire service had exacerbated the catastrophe.

"There is a lack of fire prevention, a lack of training for firefighters, a terrible lack of coordination and a shortage of funding and equipment," Nikos Georgiadis of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) told AFP.

With a general election looming on September 16, the opposition Socialists have seized on the disaster and accused conservative Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis of failing the country.

Despite the crisis, opinion polls showed Karamanlis' party was favourite to win a second term.

Financial aid promised by the government started to reach communities where homes went up in smoke.

At least 700 people in the Peloponnese received emergency payments of 3,000 euros (4,100 dollars) on Wednesday, a government spokesman said.

A massive international fire-fighting force backed by water-bombing planes and helicopters from more than a dozen countries worked night and day to extinguish the fires, swooping over blazing valleys.

In some rural areas where the flames wiped out olive groves and herds of animals, residents said they feared a way of life that had endured for centuries had been lost forever.

In the Peloponnese village of Makistos, reached by a road littered with burned-out cars, 48 of the 75 houses and both of the churches were destroyed.

"There will be no life in the future. We lived from our olive oil and some vineyards and livestock and now we are reduced to taking oil donated by the priests," local official Aris Togeiton Pothos, 60, said.

AFP
Last Mod: 30 Ağustos 2007, 10:21
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