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Deadly forest fires raging in Greece

Dozens are killed and villages are charred as nearly 200 blazes burn.

August 25, 2007|From the Associated Press

ATHENS — Fires raced across dry woodlands in southern Greece on Friday, sweeping into mountainous towns and villages and killing at least 27 people, the country's deadliest forest fire toll in decades, authorities said.

Fire crews searching through charred villages in the western Peloponnese region after daybreak today said they had found 21 bodies in villages near the town of Zaharo, including those of three firefighters. To the southeast, another six people lost their lives in another fire near the town of Areohoro, the fire department said.

News reports said another 10 bodies were found in the western Peloponnese, giving a death toll of more than 30. Authorities could not immediately confirm the higher figure.

The government appealed to European Union countries to "send any help they can," acting Interior Minister Spyros Flogaitis said after an emergency meeting of Greece's civil protection authority.

Throughout Friday and into the night, more than 170 fires raged across the country, from the western Ionian islands to Ioanina in the northwest and down to the south. With at least 25 fires starting long after dark, including one in a park in a wealthy area of Athens, authorities said they were looking into the possibility of arson.

The most devastating -- and deadly -- fire was in the Zaharo area, where nine of those killed, including the three firefighters, died after a car crashed into a firetruck and led to a pileup as residents tried to flee the area.

Tens of villages were reported to have been surrounded by walls of flames, with desperate residents phoning TV and radio stations and appealing for help.

Hot, dry winds -- at times gusting to gale force -- fueled the flames and prevented firefighting planes from taking off for much of the day Friday.

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