Fire decimates trees, houses in Halkidiki

A forest fire devastated the area of Cassandra in Halkidiki, northern Greece, causing the deaths of two people and scorching some 5,000 hectares of scorched pine trees and at least 80 holiday homes yesterday. The blaze broke out Monday afternoon but was fanned later in the day by high winds. More than 250 firefighters and soldiers tried to put out the flames but were hampered by the wind and dark of nightfall. At its peak, the fire spread over 25 kilometers and ravaged the village resorts of Polichroni, Hanioti, Pefkohori, Nea Skioni and Kryopigi as thick black smoke covered the area. The blaze forced thousands of tourists to flee their hotels for the local beaches, where more than 1,200 people boarded boats and coast guard vessels for safety. Others simply spent the night on the beach. Authorities said that an unnamed 41-year-old German tourist drowned while trying to get his family onto a rubber dinghy. Another elderly man died of a heart attack but no details were made public. More than 50 people were taken to local hospitals with burns, injuries or breathing problems. The fire continued to burn last night between Nea Skioni and Cassandrino, leaving authorities hoping for favorable weather overnight. A state of emergency was declared in the area and arguments broke out about the readiness of the fire service to deal with the blaze. Forestry experts told Kathimerini that there was not enough planning to combat a fire of this scale. Halkidiki Prefect Argyris Lafazanis blamed it on a lack of finances. Locals claimed the fire service reacted slowly as organized efforts to put out the blaze began just before midnight on Monday even though the fire broke out six hours earlier. The government said there had been no delay. Meanwhile, another large fire was burning last night in Laconia in the southeast Peloponnese. Authorities said that at least 4,000 hectares of land, including crops and trees, had been burned, as well as dozens of homes. A state of emergency was declared in the municipalities of Gytheion, Oitylo and eastern Mani as firefighters tried to contain the blaze on at least seven fronts.

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