Govt criticised over fires

Greece's government is facing a storm of criticism for its handling of the devastating forest fires which have killed more than 60 people.


At least 25 fires are blazing, mainly on the mountainous southern peninsula of Peloponnese which has been at the centre of a crisis that began over the weekend.

VIDEO: Government criticised

Hot winds are fanning the flames and testing the endurance of weary firefighters and 2,000 soldiers who have been drafted in to help.

Isolated communities

At least 63 people have died with most of the victims engulfed by flames in isolated communities in what has become Greece's worst catastrophe for decades.

Fire-fighting planes, lent by more than a dozen countries to help the Greek authorities battle the flames, dumped water on the burning forests.

Nerves already frayed by the national disaster were stretched further when an earthquake measuring 5.0 on the Richter scale shook central Peloponnese.

Arsonists blamed

The government has blamed arsonists for the fires, but the opposition Socialists said Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis was attempting to deflect criticism ahead of next month's general election.

"We are humiliated by the inability of the government to save the lives of our fellow citizens," Socialist leader George Papandreou said, dismissing the allegations of arson as "dangerous".

"When the prime minister adopts such theories, it is dangerous for the democratic institutions of a country," Mr Papandreou said.

Prime Minister Karamanlis, whose conservatives are tipped to win the election on September 16, went on the offensive.

He called on Greeks to pull together and promised that gutted homes would be rebuilt and forests re-planted, saying: "We must do everything possible to prevent young people from become disillusioned and leaving their villages."

Seven people have been charged with arson and police were looking for evidence of further cases of fires being started in forests which are highly flammable following two months of intense heat.

Fire fight

A new front in the fight against the fires has opened when flames began to tear through pine forest near Marathon to the north of Athens.

Six planes, a helicopter and 13 fire trucks headed to the area and the fire was contained as darkness fell, a fire service spokesman said.

Firefighters also rushed to tackle fires on Evia, the island north of Athens where four people have lost their lives, and in western Greece.

Meanwhile, elderly Greeks evacuated from their villages said they feared they had lost everything.

Iannoula Iannopoulos, 77, was forced to hastily leave her home in Phalaisia in western Peloponnese – almost the first time she had ventured outside the tiny village in her life.

"There are just 30 people living there and we are all old. What could we do against the flames? We wanted our children to come and help, but the roads were blocked," she said.

Farmers who scratch a living from olive groves and a few animals were counting the cost of the devastation.

Alexander Georgorlias, 73, from the Peloponnese village of Andritsaina, threw chickens killed in the fires into a ravine.

"The Turks, Italians and Germans combined didn't do as much damage as this," he said, referring to invading armies that had pillaged Greece.