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Fire fighters battle one remaining major blaze as other fires contained

Fire fighters battle one remaining major blaze as other fires contained

Firefighters were battling one remaining major blaze in southern Greece on Thursday, after managing to bring under control hundreds of others that for one week ravaged large parts of the country and killed at least 64 people.
Fears remained, however, that a new heat wave accompanied by strong winds that were expected over the weekend could feed smaller fires or rekindle those that smoldered around Greece.
According to the fire department, the blaze outside of Karytaina, just west of the town of Andritsena in the southern Peloponnese peninsula, was being fought by at least four planes and dozens of fire trucks. At least five villages in the area were evacuated late Wednesday.
In other parts of the Peloponnese, where 57 of the deaths were recorded, all the fronts were contained and firefighters _ backed by more than 20 water-dropping aircraft _ were extinguishing lingering blazes.
Their success was attributed in part to lower temperatures and a drop in the winds, which often blew with the force of a gale. But the weather service forecast a new heatwave at the end of the week.
In the tiny village of Kato Kotyli, 5 kilometers (3 miles) east of Karytaina, a handful of residents stayed behind overnight, hosing down their houses.
With most fires seemingly under control, the conservative government has focused on a vast relief effort, less than three weeks before national elections on Sept. 16.
Thousands of people again lined up outside banks to receive emergency aid, and the government said 7,500 people received euro24 million (US$33 million) on Wednesday, the first day the funds were handed out.
In the Peloponnese, the inferno destroyed hundreds of homes in dozens of villages, fragile mountain ecosystems _ which will require decades to revive _ and an entire rural way of life in some of the peninsula's afflicted areas, threatening to turn thousands of villagers into environmental refugees.
The flames even damaged parts of the 2,800-year-old World Heritage site of Ancient Olympia, birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games and the place where the Olympic Flame is lit for the summer and winter games.
Late Wednesday, more than 10,000 people, most dressed in black and bearing banners reading "No to the destruction of nature," gathered outside the Parliament house in central Athens late Wednesday to protest the destruction. Some demonstrators booed and taunted riot police, who responded by throwing stun grenades.
Arson has been widely blamed. Six people have been charged with deliberately setting fires.
Up to 190,000 hectares (469,000 acres) were laid waste between Friday and Tuesday alone _ 10 times the annual average for the past 50 years, according to the European Commission's European Forest Fire Information System, or EFFIS. A total of 275,000 hectares (679,000 acres) _ an area about the size of the small U.S. state of Rhode Island _ has gone up in smoke since the start of the year.
A helpline set up for fire victims and offers of help has received more than 40,000 calls so far, mostly from people who want to contribute aid, Deputy Finance Minister Petros Doukas said. Government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said private donations from Greeks so far amounted to more than 38 million (US$52 million).
A special fund, run by former Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis, will administer state and private funds and donations.
"We hope to alleviate the suffering of those victims, and we will also try to restore the area around Ancient Olympia," he said.
Although the government has budgeted about a third of a billion euros (around US$450 million) for such aid, the Finance Ministry has said the cost was expected to be much higher.
The fires are dominating political debate before the elections. Criticism that the government failed to respond quickly enough _ and its suggestions the fires resulted from an organized attack _ could hurt Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.
A series of polls have indicated that Karamanlis' governing conservative party lost much of its popularity when the prime minister called early elections on Aug. 16, and indicated it was now about equal with George Papandreou's main opposition Socialist party.
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Associated Press Writers Patrick Quinn and Nicholas Paphitis in Athens contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-02-27 20:49 GMT+08:00