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Friday, August 7, 1998 Published at 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK

World: Europe

Fire emergency in Greece

People watched helpless as fire devours forests near Athens

The Greek government declared a state of emergency in two areas of the country devastated by the worst forest fires in living memory.

All services including doctors and the army were placed on alert in Greater Athens and the southern Peloponnese, where the blaze threatened Olympia, the ancient site of the Olympic Games.

[ image: Greek firefighting forces were stretched to their limits]
Greek firefighting forces were stretched to their limits
Firefighting aircraft and personnel arrived from Italy and France to help battle blazes that engulfed homes around Greece and stretched the country's firefighting forces to the limit.

France sent three firefighting planes and fire crews. Italy dispatched two planes, while a French aircraft to co-ordinate efforts also arrived.

Thousands of firefighters, conscripts and volunteers were working around the clock to stamp out blazes that have flared nation-wide, including the resort islands of Corfu and Cephalonia.

Olympia: near miss

By Thursday evening, fires had abated in the Peloponnese - the flames got within a kilometer (half-a-mile) of 2,000-year-old monuments around Ancient Olympia.

"It is an ecological disaster that this area has not seen in 100 years," said Metropolitan Germanos, the local bishop.

Earlier, Greek television showed dramatic footage of panic-stricken men, women and children fleeing homes as flames descended upon them.

Many areas resembled a war zone with burnt buildings, trees and cars and animals dotting the landscape.

Man burnt to death

At nightfall, nearly all fires had been extinguished in an area around Mount Pendeli near Athens

[ image: Panic as fires raged near Athens]
Panic as fires raged near Athens
Earlier, a 67-year-old man, died in the area when his car caught on fire as he tried to flee the flames.

The government launched a massive evacuation of homes and hospitals in the area.

Fire-fighters were removing elderly people from homes after a man was burnt alive when his car caught on fire as he tried to flee the flames.

More fires have broken out across Greece this summer than ever before, devouring thousands of acres of land.

The Greek Interior Minister, Alekos Papadopoulos, said in the last few months alone there had been some 3,000.

The government has blamed the record number on arsonists working on behalf of property developers.

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