February 24, 2009 in Nation/World

Residents flee fires quickly this time

 

With terrifying memories of Australia’s deadliest wildfires still fresh, residents chose to flee rather than protect their homes Monday when new blazes broke containment lines and threatened the fringes of the country’s second-largest city.

Many victims of the Feb. 7 disaster that officials call “Black Saturday” died in their cars or in the open, and police said they tried, too late, to escape. Since then, officials have urged residents to choose quickly and stick with their decision: Leave early when a blaze approaches, or stay and fight.

Just two sheds were destroyed in the Melbourne suburb of Belgrave South before the fire threat eased Monday, but the panic showed how jittery Australians remained 16 days after the disaster.

At least two new fires broke out in southern Victoria state, where temperatures soared into the mid-80s and strong, gusty winds blew the fires first one way then another.

Two firefighters who fought the blaze in Belgrave South suffered minor injuries, said Kevin Monk, a state environment department spokesman. The confirmed death toll was increased to 210 today and was expected to rise.

ATHENS, Greece

Copter lifts pair to freedom – again

The helicopter company offered “escapes …  to idyllic destinations.” But this wasn’t the kind of flight it had in mind.

For the second time in nearly three years, a notorious bank robber was lifted out of a prison where he was being held along with his Albanian accomplice in a rented chopper amid fire from prison guards.

Police launched a massive manhunt Monday for Vassilis Paleokostas – the robber hailed by some Greeks as a modern-day Robin Hood – and accomplice Alket Rizaj.

Police also announced the arrest of four prison guards and the helicopter pilot, who was found bound, gagged and with a hood over his head. The pilot said he had been hijacked by a man and a woman brandishing an assault rifle and a hand grenade.

The chartered helicopter was found abandoned near a highway north of Athens Sunday. Flying low to avoid radar detection, the helicopter swooped down onto Greece’s main high-security Korydallos prison Sunday afternoon, and Paleokostas and Rizaj scrambled up a rope ladder onto the roof. Gunshots rang out, but the chopper rose to cheers from prison inmates.

Less than three years ago, the same two men organized an almost identical escape from the Korydallos prison. They repeated their feat the day before they had been due to appear in court.

SOFIA, Bulgaria

With 360 games going, he’s king

A Bulgarian grandmaster appears to have broken the world record for the highest number of chess games played simultaneously, organizers said Monday.

Kiril Georgiev played a total of 360 games simultaneously, winning 284, drawing 70 and losing six, during a marathon that lasted 14 hours and 8 minutes in Sofia’s Inter Expo Center, the organizers said.

The record number of games and the winning percentage of 88 percent will allow Georgiev to apply formally for entry into the Guinness Book of World Records.

From wire reports

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