Stabilized forest fires in Greece intensify again; 2 arrested

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Forest fires on the island of Zakynthos, Greece.
Image: Carl Osbourn.

The huge forest fires that blazed across southern Greece on Friday and Saturday were stabilized for a few hours today.

Fire Brigade Officer Nikos Tsogas said, "It's not getting worse...we have to act fast because the winds might pick up." However, the winds have reportedly intensified. Fire department spokesman Nikos Diamandis said, "Unfortunately the improvement that we were looking for is not there...Our target is for the fire not to enter Ancient Olympia, not to destroy antiquities." Fire is surrounding villages just a few miles away from Ancient Olympia.

Several new fires also broke out today in Phiotida in central Greece. The worst fires continue to burn in the southern mountains of Peloponnese, where some blazes involve 42 major fronts.

The fires have killed at least 63 people. Some reports indicate that an unspecified number are also missing.

Meanwhile, Greek authorities announced that they have made two arrests in the case. The first, a 65-year-old man, was reportedly seen torching trees across southern Peloponnese. The second person arrested and charged was a 77-year-old woman who reportedly was seen starting a fire while cooking outside in Zaharo. The Associated Press reports seven other people have been detained.

Officer Tsogas said authorities are investigating reports of a cell phone attached to an explosive gas canister found after a smaller fire in mountain Ymittos in Athens. Greek private TV station "mega channel" has reported that more than one fire-starting mechanisms connected to cell phones have been found by volunteering citizens that are trying to help the authorities.

Meanwhile the government has announced rewards ranging from 100,000 euros to one million euros for information on arsonists involved in this week's barrage of wildfire ravaging much of southern Greece.

The Greek government has declared a state of emergency.

At least 12 European countries are sending aid and resources.

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