Sunday, August 26, 2007

Greek Fires Kill 12 and Threaten Antiquities

ZAHARO, Greece, Aug. 26 — At least 12 more people were reported dead on Sunday in fierce forest fires in Greece, as walls of flame, though slowed in somewhat calmer winds, continued to consume homes and threatened the ruins where the Olympic Games were first played.

Scores of villages were evacuated in fires that turned the earth to white ash and the air to a soupy ochre, but not everyone obeyed: in the hilltop town of Karnasi here on the hard-hit Peloponnesian peninsula, Vassiliki Panagapoulou, 56, doused her tan dress with water, put a rag to her mouth and took a garden hose to the worst fires in Greece, by some accounts, since 1871.

“It’s very scary but I have no other option,” she said, after she and her son stopped flames ripping down a slope that threatened her nine white goats, 14 roosters and her home of 40 years. “There is no other woman trying to protect her home? I can’t believe that.”

Though the death toll was lower than that on Saturday — 46 people, most here in the Peloponnese — the government warned that little progress was made Sunday in putting out the 44 separate fires. They continued to rage, even as firefighters and water-bearing planes began arriving from other European nations.

“We are exactly where we were yesterday,” said Vassilis Adamopoulos, a spokesman for the Greek fire brigade. “The winds have died down a bit. But none of the major fires have been put under control.”

Mr. Adamopoulos added, “The situation is extremely critical.”

Still, firefighters managed to douse blazes around the outskirts of Athens, which woke up on Sunday to flurries of ash, and halted the progress of fires near the city of ancient Olympia on the Peloponnese, where the first Olympic Games were played in 776 B.C.