Greece pushes back fire threat: officials

27th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Hundreds of firefighters aided by Greek, French and Spanish water bombers on Saturday held back wildfires on several fronts around the country after an all-night struggle, officials said.

Residents evacuated from three villages in the southern Peloponnese peninsula a day earlier returned to their homes and progress was being made against a massive wildfire believed to have destroyed over 5,000 hectares of forest in the country's northeastern Evros region, the authorities said.

"We have 22 active fronts around the country, but none of them threaten inhabited areas," fire department Nikos Tsongas told private Flash Radio.

The biggest wildfire continued to burn for a fourth day in Evros, near the border with Turkey, where a state of emergency was declared this week.

But aerial reinforcements sent from France and Spain have helped turn the tide, local governor Aris Yiannakidis told the station.

"The situation appears to be under control," he said, adding that two French and two Spanish water bombers were operating in the area.

A 50-year-old farmer was arrested for starting the fire which had threatened the pine forest of Dadia, a national park sheltering rare Balkans wildlife.

The farmer, who was handed a suspended five-year sentence and a 20,000-euro ($29,000) fine, claimed the blaze was started by exhaust sparks from his tractor.

Scores of fires break out in Greece every summer, aided by high temperatures and strong winds, and are frequently attributed to arson, though the perpetrators are rarely caught.

The civil protection authority has warned that strong winds continue to pose a threat around much of the country.

One firefighter died on Monday after getting trapped by flames in the southern Peloponnese peninsula.

More than 10 percent of Greek territory was devastated by forest fires from 1983 to 2003, according to a report published last month by the Greek institute of agricultural research.

The country has seen an average 1,465 forest fires per year, the report said.

One of the most serious occured in 2007, when 77 people died and 250,000 hectares were ravaged, mainly in the Peloponnese and on the island of Euboea.

© 2011 AFP

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