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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 August 2006, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Tourists flee Greek forest fire
Local residents watch the fire in village of Kriopigi, Halkidiki, 21 Aug 06
The blaze spread rapidly across the Kassandra peninsula
Several thousand tourists and local residents have been forced to flee a huge forest fire in northern Greece.

The fire burned out of control on the Kassandra peninsula, threatening the resorts of Polychrono and Hanioti.

At least 1,000 British tourists were among those affected, as mass evacuations took place. Many spent the night on beaches.

Fishing boats and coastguard vessels took 600 people off beaches to safety, but one German tourist died.

The Greek coastguard confirmed the death. The tourist apparently drowned while trying to reach one of the boats involved in the evacuation.

Since first light 10 firefighting planes and three helicopters have been airborne, making continuous sorties to pick up water in the Gulf of Kassandra.

According to a UK Foreign Office spokesman, the fire is now "being brought under control and people are being allowed back into the area".

Greece map

There are no reports of any British casualties, he said.

Some 2,000 British tourists are estimated to be among the holidaymakers in the region.

Lyndsey Jones, an eyewitness stranded in her hotel, said she was lucky it had not been burnt down.

"This morning when we got up there was ash everywhere, it's just a big cloud of ash," she told the BBC.

"It's amazing how close it got to the hotel, it's just round the borders, literally round the borders of the hotel and the parasols round the pool they're all burned, so it's really lucky the hotel didn't go up."

Another British holidaymaker at a Halkidiki resort, Jo Leaney, said the fire had raced down from nearby hills and forced her out of her apartment.

The fire comes at the hottest time of year and during a prolonged dry spell.

The BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Athens says the temperature on Monday was about 42C (107F) and the flames were fanned by a seasonal northern wind called the Meltemi.

Destruction

Three fingers of land jut out from the Halkidiki peninsula, with the westernmost, Kassandra, affected by the fire.

Picture of forest fire in Hanioti, northern Greece sent to the BBC by holidaymaker Lyndsey Jones
Holidaymaker Lyndsey Jones sent this picture from Hanioti
Ms Leaney told the BBC she had been in her apartment with others when she spotted the flames in the hills.

The rooms "suddenly filled with smoke" and they fled to the beach "with only the belongings we had on us", along with other tourists and local residents.

Homes, hotels and campsites were evacuated.

At least 20 homes have been destroyed and many of the hotels in the region have lost electricity.

Holidaymaker Craig Shakespeare spotted the flames on hills he estimated were several miles away from his hotel balcony.

"I hoped the fire was contained, but literally within five minutes trees 300 yards (275m) from us were on fire," he told the BBC.

"The wind was blowing, and the flames were going everywhere." He said he was "dodging hot ash" as he fled to the nearby beach.

The UK Foreign Office has set up a phone number for worried relatives: 020 7008 1500.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
British tourists describe Greek fire ordeal



SEE ALSO
Country profile: Greece
21 Aug 06 |  Country profiles




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