August 28, 2007 in Nation/World

Helicopters sent to evacuate Greeks

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review
 
Associated Press photo

Forest fires nearly destroyed the village of Livadaki, Greece, seen on Monday. At least 63 people have died in the blazes. Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

ATHENS, Greece – Firefighters rushed helicopters and buses Monday to evacuate more than two dozen villages threatened by towering walls of flames that had killed 63 people while ravaging swaths of forest and farmland in Greece’s worst wildfire disaster in memory.

Four days of devastating blazes from the northern border with Albania to the southern island of Crete unnerved and angered Greeks, drawing strong criticism of the government’s response.

The government, which declared a state of emergency, implied the destruction could be part of an orchestrated campaign of arson. But environmental experts expressed skepticism.

People used garden hoses, buckets, tin cans and branches in desperate attempts to beat back flames and save their homes and livelihoods.

A helicopter flew five people out of Prasidaki in southern Greece, fire department spokesman Yiannis Stamoulis said. Another was sent to the village of Frixa, but residents there refused to leave, he said.

A woman and her four children killed Friday, their charred bodies found with the woman’s arms around the youngsters, might have been safe if they had stayed at home. It was the only house left untouched in the village of Artemida in the western Peloponnese. The house’s white walls and red tile roof were unscathed, surrounded by blackened earth.

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