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Sunday, August 9, 1998 Published at 20:51 GMT 21:51 UK

World: Europe

'Arsonists' arrested in Greece

Heatwave and strong winds have hampered firefighting

Greek police have arrested several suspected arsonists they believe are responsible for the forest fires that continue to rage across the country.

One of those arrested was a French tourist on holiday with his wife in mainland Greece. He is alleged to have been caught by locals lighting a blaze in a middle of a wood.

Greek police said they also arrested a Greek forest warden and an Albanian citizen as both men tried to set fire to prime pine forests in the Peleponnese.

[ image: Greek firefighters are helped by foreign aircraft]
Greek firefighters are helped by foreign aircraft
The government blames the record number of forest blazes in Greece this summer on arsonists working for property developers.

Interior Minister Alekos Papadopoulos said the government was bracing itself for more fires.

Water-carrying helicopters from Germany and firefighting planes from Russia have joined French, Italian and Spanish aircraft in what has become a huge international effort to put out the fires.

Counting the cost

Fires which were threatening the suburbs of Athens were reported to be under control on Saturday.

[ image: Residents joined the firefighting efforts in northern Athens]
Residents joined the firefighting efforts in northern Athens
But a state of emergency persists in the southern Peloponnese, one of Greece's most popular tourist destinations.

Earlier this week one blaze came within metres of destroying ancient Olympia, the 2,000-year-old home of the Olympic Games.

The BBC correspondent in Athens, Helena Smith, says the blazes are being described as the worst ecological disaster in Greece in more than 100 years.

Since the beginning of the summer, 120,000 hectares (300,000 acres) of forest, bush and farmland have been destroyed, according to government figures.

With vast swathes of Greece now resembling a war zone as a result of the fires, many have begun to worry about the impact the blazes will have on tourism at the height of the summer season.

Forest fires have also been raging in Croatia, where at least one person is said to have been killed.

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