[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Monday, 27 August 2007, 15:35 GMT 16:35 UK
Greeks step up fire investigation
Firefighters battle a blaze in Andritsena, Greece 27/08
Greece is awash with theories on how the fires started
Authorities in Greece have intensified efforts to find out what caused forest fires that have left more than 60 dead.

Anti-terrorist squads have been questioning some of the 32 suspected arsonists arrested so far, as new fires continue to break out around Greece.

A state of emergency has been declared and a 1m euro (678,000) reward has been offered to help catch arsonists.

Since Friday, blazes have ravaged the country from Evia island north of Athens to the Peloponnese in the south.

Villagers 'trapped'

The BBC's Malcolm Brabant, in Athens, says Greece has the feel of a country on a war footing.

Our correspondent says the country is awash with theories about who could have set fire to the land.

One idea is that the fires could have been started as a way of getting around Greek laws forbidding development on areas designated as forest land.

Hill of Kronos burning near Olympia
The hill of Kronos, overlooking Olympia, was engulfed by fire

A top Greek prosecutor has ordered an inquiry into whether arson attacks can be considered terrorism, and prosecuted under Greece's anti-terror laws.

Treating arson as a potential act of terrorism would give authorities broader powers of investigation and arrest.

Meanwhile, police are patrolling suburban areas on the lookout for fire-starters.

The fires have gutted hundreds of homes, forcing thousands of villagers to flee and blackening hillsides.

Many people are still reported to be trapped by the fires.

Emergency crews scrambled to Frixa in western Peloponnese to rescue stricken villagers on Monday, the Associated Press reported.

The people here are angry, frustrated and sad
Jona Desselberger
BBC News website reader, in Athens

A fire department spokesman told AP that 11 people were also believed to be trapped in woodland in Aigialia, in northern Peloponnese.

Greek firefighters are being supported by 20 water-bombing planes and 19 helicopters.

At least 11 countries - including France, Italy and Spain - are helping Greece fight the fires with planes, helicopters and specialist firefighters.

The European Commission's Barbara Helfferich told the BBC the firefighting effort revealed "a tremendous solidarity" between EU member states.

'Charred remains'

The rapidly advancing fires caught many people unaware. Those who left the decision to flee too late were caught in their houses, cars, or as they stumbled through olive groves.

At least 39 people were reported to have been killed in the worst affected region, around the town of Zaharo in western Peloponnese.

Hot dry winds helped to spread the fires to the outskirts of Athens, shrouding the capital in smoke that obscured the sun.

"The people here are angry, frustrated and sad," Jona Desselberger, in Athens, told the BBC News website.

"Charred remains of buildings, trees and once thriving agricultural communities mar the roadside for mile upon mile throughout the Peloponnese."

Ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games and one of the country's most revered archaeological sites, was narrowly saved from destruction by firefighters on Sunday.

Map




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Flames threatened the ancient site of Olympia






FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific