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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 August 2006, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
Firefighters battle Greek blaze
People watch as smoke engulfs houses in Kassandra, Northern Greece.
Residents and tourists alike had to flee the fires
Firefighters in northern Greece are battling to control forest fires that have been raging since Monday on the Halkidiki peninsula.

Hundreds of holidaymakers from the UK and other countries have cut short their holidays and are returning home.

One German tourist drowned while trying to reach one of the fishing boats and coastguard vessels involved in an evacuation on Monday night.

Greek police say the pattern of the blaze suggests it may have been arson.

I have never, ever, been so frightened in my life - I am very relieved to be back
Sarah James of Welshpool

In Kassandra, the western point of the peninsula, more than 260 firemen, along with troops and volunteers, are struggling to extinguish the fires, AFP news agency reports.

The fire is threatening the resorts of Polychrono and Hanioti.

The authorities are beginning to assess the damage among fears that the dense pine forest ravaged over the past two days will take decades to grow again.

About 3,500 hectares (8,500 acres) of pine forest, at least 15 buildings and scores of farm animals have been destroyed in the blaze.

Returnees

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

Satellite image shows the smoke from the fires in Northern Greece
Satellite image shows smoke over the Aegean Sea from the fires
Many had to spend part of Monday night on the beaches.

Andy and Sarah James, of Welshpool, Mid Wales, spoke of their relief at leaving Greece and flying into Manchester Airport.

The couple had been enjoying a summer break with their two children when the fire broke out in the beach resort of Hanioti.

Mr James told GMTV he was angry at the treatment they received from local officials, who he claimed had failed to keep them informed of the dangers.

Greece map

He said: "It is has been an absolute nightmare. It has been absolutely berserk.

"We have been passed from pillar to post without being told what is going on."

His wife added: "We just cried. We could see the flames and just ran up the beach as far as we could.

"We thought, stay close to the beach. I have never, ever, been so frightened in my life. I am very relieved to be back."

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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