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Fires Engulf Southern Greece, More Than 50 Dead


Fires roared unabated across southern Greece Sunday, swallowing villages and burning up forests in an inferno that has killed more than 50 people.

A firefighter spokesman said today that nearly half of the country is on fire, including the island of Evia north of Athens. Early today on the Peloponnese peninsula, flames moved within several kilometers of ancient Olympia, the site of the first Olympics.

Desperate villagers and officials near Olympia appeared on television to appeal for help. One resident told Greek television "we have no water, we are at God's mercy."

Greek fire brigades, stretched thin by the magnitude of the fires, were joined today by firefighters and planes from the European Union. The EU help, including water-bombers and firefighters from Italy, Cyprus and France, came just hours after the Athens government declared a nationwide state of emergency.

Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis told his beleaguered nation Saturday that "all means and all forces" were being mobilized to put out the fires and aid hundreds of families left homeless.

Mr. Karamanlis pointed the finger at arsonists for starting the fires in areas already hit hard in recent months by drought and multiple heat waves. He said his government will "do everything in its power" to "find and punish" those responsible.

The Associated Press says police have arrested a 65-year-old man in the southern Peloponnese and charged him with arson in Aeropolis. Separately, the report said two youths were arrested on suspicion of arson in the northern city of Kavala.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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