More fires fuel arson fears

Firefighters yesterday struggled to control several fires across Greece, evacuating a monastery and children’s camp in Corinth after a large blaze that had broken out on Tuesday rekindled. The fire in Corinth, which forced the closure of a key section of the national highway, was brought under partial control by late yesterday. Blazes also broke out in Mani in the Peloponnese, on the Ionian island of Zakynthos, in the northern prefectures of Rodopi and Kastoria, and in Patras. Fires were also reported in Zofria, western Athens, and in the suburb of Pendeli. Meanwhile, Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias, who has been entrusted with the reforestation of Mount Parnitha, announced plans for the creation of a business park at the foot of the charred mountain. Souflias, who met with regional mayors and prefects, pledged funding to clean up overgrown forestland and asked local authorities to guard burnt areas against developers. According to the latest ministry figures released yesterday, some 5,600 hectares were burnt between Parnitha and Dervenohoria. The minister also referred to a draft presidential decree on the protection of Parnitha which, he said, had been sent to President Karolos Papoulias for approval. The decree will specify what can and cannot be built on and around the mountain. In the meantime, works to build a flood barrier for Parnitha are presently under way, Souflias said. The fire on Parnitha was one of 1,450 fires in Greece this summer, the fire service said yesterday. It was unclear how many of these blazes were forest fires. As speculation mounts regarding the cause of the fires, police said three suspected arsonists had been arrested in western Greece. According to the National Statistics Service, a total of 1,502 people were convicted on arson charges between 1997 and 2004. Two in three (947) of those convicted got suspended jail sentences while nearly a third (464) were given sentences they could buy off. Just 6 percent (90) served jail time. The penal code provides for jail sentences of up to 10 years, and a fine ranging from 15,000 euros to 150,00 euros for convicted arsonists.

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