Forest Fires Burn Homes in Greece, Emergency Declared

July 20, 2007

Wildfires burned homes and forced the evacuations of villages, a convent and a children’s summer camp in southern Greece, authorities said July 19.

The Fire Service reported 115 fires in 24 hours as temperatures reached 39 degrees Celsius (102 Fahrenheit) in parts of the country and a heat wave swept across the Balkans.

Authorities in neighboring Macedonia declared a nationwide state of emergency, while villages near Albania’s capital Tirana were evacuated because of fires.

In southern Greece, villages near the city of Corinth, 85 kilometers (52 miles) southwest of Athens, were evacuated after a fire reached inhabited areas and destroyed at least 10 homes.

More than 300 children were safely evacuated from a summer camp, while about 20 nuns were evacuated from a remote Orthodox convent on Tuesday.

The service said a record number of forest fires broke out in Greece in 2007 – with 2,050 fires reported between June 1 and July 18, or more than double the number during the same last year.

Greek Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras said authorities had indications some of the recent major fires had been started by arsonists, who had probably hoped to clear forest land for illegal development.

“Of course there has been arson,” Polydoras said.

The Corinth fire started Monday, and damaged the grounds of the medieval Acrocorinth castle.

In Macedonia, the government declared a two-week state of emergency as temperatures reached 41 degrees Celsius (105.8 Fahrenheit) and were set to rise further, causing dozens of fires.

Working hours were reduced from eight to six hours, while pregnant women were granted paid leave.

Firefighters in Albania evacuated scores of residents from a village outside the capital Tirana as homes were threatened by an olive grove fire.

Associated Press writers Konstantin Testorides in Skopje, Macedonia and Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania contributed to this report

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