NEWS

Fire claims more lives and homes

Another two people were found burned to death in the northern Peloponnese yesterday as wildfires continued to ravage the area around the town of Aigion, leaving the prime minister to try to boost the morale of the overstretched fire service. The two dead were identified as 92-year-old Panayiota Symeopoulou and 85-year-old Alexandra Dimakopoulou. They were cousins who had gone to their summer house in the village of Ano Diakofto a few days ago. Their home was totally destroyed by one of the fires burning in the area of Aigialia in the northeastern part of the prefecture of Achaia. Another man was being treated in the hospital in Patras last night with burns on 30 percent of his body. A number of elderly people were admitted to the hospital with breathing problems. A 75-year-old man was found dead in one of the villages in the area on Wednesday. Yesterday’s deaths mean that 10 people have died fleeing or fighting forest fires in Greece this summer. Residents from some 40 villages were forced to abandon their homes yesterday in Aigialia, while others who had been evacuated on Wednesday returned to find their houses destroyed by the blaze. More than 100 homes have been burned along with at least 20,000 hectares of land, according to an initial estimate. Local residents claimed that the fires in the area spread after an initial blaze that started near the village of Kounina on Monday was not brought under control promptly by the fire service. Firefighters were also battling a fire in the southwestern Peloponnese prefecture of Messinia that had developed a 10-kilometer front. Houses were destroyed in the villages of Maniako and Aghioi Apostoloi. In the space of 24 hours, 226 fires had been reported, including on the Ionian island of Cephalonia, at the peak of the tourist season, where 12 villages had been scarred by blazes that had been burning since Wednesday. Fires were also reported on the islands of Zakynthos and Chios. There were no reports of tourists being caught up in any of the fires. Some seven hectares of shrubland burned in less than an hour near Porto Rafti, east of Athens, before firefighters put out the fire. A state of emergency was declared in three municipalities and four communities in Kastoria and Florina, northern Greece, as a fire continued to tear through the forest on Mount Grammos. Authorities estimated that some 2,000 hectares of forest have been destroyed. Meanwhile, in a bid to keep morale high among firefighters, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis yesterday attended a swearing-in ceremony of newly trained firefighters in Vilia, western Attica, and called on them to ignore ill-intentioned critics. «Do what you have been trained to do. Do your job consciously, calmly and with clear thought. And you can be sure that the people will judge, assess and finally recognize those that serve them,» said Karamanlis. The conservative government has come under heavy criticism from opposition parties for its coordination efforts of firefighting forces. PASOK leader George Papandreou, who visited fire-ravaged areas in Aigion and Diakofto, accused the government of being largely responsible for «this new national ecological tragedy.» Sources said that officials from within the conservative government have also targeted Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras, whose ministry is in charge of firefighters, for his supervision and communication efforts. «The weather, the high temperatures, the strong winds and difficult-to-reach areas are to blame. But the mistakes should be blamed on me,» said the public order minister, as calls grow for the sacking of senior firefighting officials. With the country’s ground and air force resources stretched, Karamanlis called on Russia for assistance. Ties between the two countries have been boosted recently following agreements to work together on different energy projects. Sources said that Karamanlis called Russian President Vladimir Putin for equipment that can help extinguish the fires. Shortly after the request was made, Putin agreed to send three water-dropping airplanes and two helicopters, sources added.