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Winds whip up fires in Greece

September 02, 2007|From Reuters

ATHENS — Strong winds reinvigorated fires that have cut a trail of destruction across Greece over the last 10 days, killing more than 60 people, and authorities said they would burn for at least four more days.

A helicopter rescued five firefighters and 17 civilians who had been fighting a blaze in the Parnonas mountains, which rise to about 6,500 feet on the eastern side of the Peloponnese peninsula that makes up southern Greece.

Fire brigade spokesman Nikos Diamantis said the wind and high temperatures "create the conditions for new fires to break out in already burnt areas," noting that today, "we expect a small fall in temperature but strong winds will remain."

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who faces national elections Sept. 16, gave European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso a helicopter tour of smoldering parts of the Peloponnese.

"A Greek problem is a European problem and above all this, this is a human tragedy," Barroso said. "Now we can rebuild what has been destroyed."

Estimates of damage to the economy range from $1.64 billion to $4 billion. The commission has said it could provide as much as $270 million from a so-called solidarity fund. Karamanlis, who has blamed arsonists for the fires, has called for national unity. His administration has doled out at least $145 million in compensation so far.

In some areas, life was returning to normal.

Ancient Olympia, site of the first Olympics in 776 BC, was busy with tourists Saturday, a week after firefighters managed to save it from fires that scorched surrounding trees.

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