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63 die as wildfires devastate Greece; Moon rises red over Athens.

Byline: By Michael Wood

FIREFIGHTERS scrambled a helicopter to rescue people encircled by flames in southern Greece yesterday - one of dozens of fires tearing through villages and forests.

The worst wildfires in living memory have killed 63 people. One broke out on the edge of Athens yesterday, but was quickly brought under control. Another scorched woodland near the Olympics birthplace.

The helicopter flew to Frixa in the western Peloponnese to rescue surrounded people. A woman found dead on Friday with her arms around the bodies of four children had fled her home - the only house left standing in the Peloponnese town of Artemida. Its white walls and red roof were unscathed though surrounded by blackened earth.

Fuelled by strong, hot winds and parched grass and trees, fires have engulfed villages, forests and farmland. Winds blew smoke and ash over the capital, turning the moon red.

"The whole village is burning. It's been burning for three days," one woman sobbed, clutching her 20-month-old daughter as they sheltered in a church with dozens of others near Figalia.

In Peloponnese mountain villages dozens of charred bodies have been found in fields, homes, roads and cars. Rural areas are crowded - the feast of the Assumption is one of Greece's main holidays. Prosecutor Dimitris Papan-gelopoulos ordered an investigation into whether arson on forests came under Greece's anti-terror law. Arson is often suspected, mostly to clear land for development. No building is allowed in Greek forests.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said: "So many fires breaking out simultaneously in so many parts of the country cannot be a coincidence." The government declared a state of emergency on Saturday. Seventeen countries were sending planes and fire crews.

Several people have been arrested. One was charged with starting a fire near Areopolis, in the south, that killed six.

Weekend fires killed two old people at Prisadets in neighbouring B ulgaria.


HORROR: Anastasia Iliopoulou, 81, of Artemida. Behind her is the home of Athanasia Paraskevo-poulou, 37, who died with her four children after fleeing the house where they were safe.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 28, 2007
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