Three firemen killed, one hurt in Cretan blaze

Three firefighters died and another was seriously injured yesterday on the island of Crete while fighting a forest fire when the blaze trapped them due to a sudden change in wind direction, according to authorities. The three, who were on seasonal contracts, perished after becoming trapped by the blaze in a gorge in the Doxaro area, outside of the city of Rethymnon on Crete’s northeast coast. The three men, between the ages of 34 and 40, had almost 20 years of firefighting experience among them. A fourth firefighter was hospitalized with serious burns from the wildfire, which started around 2 p.m. According to a local municipal official, the firefighters were trapped while fighting the blaze when, due to a sudden change in wind direction, the fire surrounded them and prevented them from being able to escape. A fourth firefighter was taken to a local hospital with burns on 40 percent of his body, a quarter of which are second degree. Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras said of the victims, «We honor them as genuine heroes for their sacrifice and tragic deaths.» «We always stress during training exercises the priority given to the safety of the human lives of firefighters and others,» said the minister. An internal investigation has been ordered into the incident. Fanned by strong winds, the fire continued to burn on four different fronts yesterday afternoon. It was being fought by 54 firefighters, 13 fire trucks and a water-dropping helicopter. Greece has been ravaged by forest fires this summer after a dry winter. As temperatures soared, it took about a week to bring under control a forest fire that destroyed more than half a national park on Mount Parnitha, north of Athens. According to official data, 16 firefighters have been killed in the line of duty since 1998, of whom seven were involved in forest fire operations. The deadliest fire in recent years was in Karea, eastern Athens, when four firefighters lost their lives.

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