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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 August 2007, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
Greeks facing impossible choices
The BBC's Dominic Hughes reports from the Greek island of Evia, one of the areas worst-hit by wildfires raging across the country.

Man fighting flames on Evia island
Residents of Evia have battled the flames since Saturday

Looking out from the mainland in the early morning, Evia is just a hazy outline.

It is the smoke from the overnight fires that obscures the view. And on the island itself the smell of wood smoke is never far away.

The worst-affected areas are easy to spot - there the smoke rises in thick black clouds.

Once you are close enough to see the flames themselves, the heat from the burning scrub and trees is intense.

And the fire-front moves incredibly quickly, pushed along by a hot, dry wind that makes the firefighters' job almost impossible.

Desperate attempts

We had driven up into the hills behind the town of Aliveri with fire on one side of the road.

It quickly jumped the track and soon it was impossible to drive back down the way we had come.

We came across a man using just a leaky garden hose to try and damp down flames right at the edge of his property.

He sold building supplies, and his shop was full of highly flammable liquids.

The fickle fires had swept though a modern housing estate, gutting some houses but sparing others

It was desperate stuff, with friends and family helping to beat down the flames with whatever they could lay their hands on.

In the end the building was saved, but it was a close-run thing.

Just a few miles down the coast, they were not so lucky.

The fickle fires had swept though a modern housing estate, gutting some houses but sparing others.

Wooden telegraph poles were still smouldering and some had collapsed all together.

Charred trees and ash were all that remained between the houses. The hillside behind the estate was the colour of grey ash, an eerie lunar landscape.

The only sounds were of people clearing up the debris in the houses, sweeping up shattered clay roof tiles.

Some do not want to leave their houses when the fires come. You can hardly blame them.

A fire in a house will destroy everything in a way that flooding, for example, will not. Photos, clothes, books - it all goes.

So people are faced with an impossible choice - stay and try to save something, or run and lose it all.

Both carry risks. More than 60 people have now died. Some were volunteer firefighters, some were caught in their houses, others died while trying to get away.

Finger-pointing

But the big question many are asking is where did these fires come from?

Many people we have spoken to share the government's belief that these fires were started deliberately, and most point the finger at unscrupulous property developers.

A spokesman for the national developers' organisation says those claims are ridiculous.

Greece map

But others argue that so many fires started in so many places and at the same time just cannot be a coincidence.

And the problem is that once these fires start, it is incredibly difficult to put them out.

The hills are rough and thickly wooded, and everything is tinder dry. With the wind behind it, a fire can quickly become unmanageable.

Huge water-bombing aircraft seem to be the best weapons, flying low over the fires and releasing a deluge of water.

It is highly skilled and dangerous work and despite reinforcements from France, Italy and across Europe, there is only so much they can achieve.

The best hope is a change in the weather. Forecasters predict that the wind will drop on Tuesday, which would help.

What is really needed is a good dose of rain, but this is Greece in late August - so there is no sign of that.




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