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Monday, August 27, 2007

Update on Greece Fires: Olympia Saved

The death toll has risen to 63, hundreds of homes destroyed and dozens of fires still blazing.

Six planes, 2 helicopters, 15 fire engines, and 45 firemen participated in beating back the fire from destroying Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic games and one of the most sacred sites from ancient Greece.

August 27, 2007—Appearing to gasp for air through the smoke, a winged statue of victory stands surrounded by wildfires that nearly destroyed the site of the ancient Olympic Games in southwestern Greece.

Firefighters scored a victory of their own yesterday, when they beat back flames that skirted the edge of Olympia, birthplace of the Games and one of the most sacred sites of ancient Greece.

"The fire reached the hill overlooking ancient Olympia but was stopped just before entering the archaeological site," a member of the brigade told the Reuters news service.

"Six planes, 2 helicopters, 15 fire engines, and 45 firemen participated in the effort."

Olympia's 2,800-year-old temple ruins and statues appear to have been spared, but dozens of other fires continue to rage throughout Greece, having killed 63 people and destroyed hundreds of homes.

The fires seem to have been set intentionally, officials said, and a U.S. $1.4 million reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of the arsonists.

Southern Greece: Helicopters raced to rescue people as one of those fires raced through their village.

ATHENS, Greece (AP) - Firefighters scrambled a helicopter to rescue people trapped by swirling flames in southern Greece on Monday - one of dozens of fires that have torn through village and forest across the country, leaving blackened landscape in their wake.

The worst wildfires in living memory have killed 63 people, destroying everything in their path. One fire broke out on the fringe of Athens Monday, but was quickly brought under control. Another scorched the woodland around the birthplace of the Olympics.

The flames were driven back from the capital and Ancient Olympia, but a helicopter headed to the village of Frixa in the western Peloponnese to rescue panicked residents, the fire department said.

``We have people trapped,'' said a fire department spokeswoman.

A woman found dead on Friday with her arms around the bodies of four children had fled her home - the only house left standing in the village, said a neighbor in the Peloponnese town of Artemida. The home's white walls and red tile roof were unscathed; it was surrounded by blackened earth.

Fueled by strong, hot winds and parched grass and trees, the fires have engulfed villages, forests and farmland. New blazes broke out faster than others could be brought under control.

``The whole village is burning. It's been burning for three days,'' one woman sobbed, clutching her 20-month-old daughter as they sheltered in a church along with dozens of others near Figalia, elsewhere in the western Peloponnese.

(Fire burns on the Hill of Kronos next to the site of ancient Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic Games, in southwestern Greece on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2007. A massive effort by firefighters, assisted by water-dropping aircraft and fire trucks, succeeded in keeping a raging blaze away from the 2,800-year-old site _ the holiest sanctuary in ancient Greece. Three days of forest blazes throughout the country have left at least 57 people dead, authorities said Sunday. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris) )

Fire department spokesman Nikos Diamandis said 89 new fires started during a 24-hour period that began at 6 a.m. Sunday. Twenty-eight were considered particularly dangerous.

"Fires are burning in more than half the country," Diamandis said. "This is definitely an unprecedented disaster for Greece."

Desperate residents appealed through television stations for help from a firefighting service already stretched to the limit and anger mounted, with many blaming authorities for leaving them defenseless. Scores of people were treated in hospitals for burns and breathing problems. The government declared a state of emergency on Saturday.

Government and firefighting officials have suggested arson caused many of the blazes, and several people had been arrested. The government offered a reward of up to $1.36 million for anyone providing information that would lead to the arrest of an arsonist.

Horrible. Keep these people in your thoughts and prayers and I will bring you more as it comes out.

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