Wildfire Hurts Dozens in Northern Greece

By NIKOLAS GIAKOUMIDIS
The Associated Press
Tuesday, August 22, 2006; 7:43 PM

KRIOPIGI, Greece -- A wildfire raging in northern Greece has left dozens of people injured and forced several thousand others to flee hotels, holiday homes and campsites, authorities said Tuesday.

The blaze was also linked to the death of a 41-year-old German man. Coroner Matthaios Tsoukas said he drowned after suffering heart problems while trying to board boats taking tourists who were stranded on beaches on the Halkidiki peninsula.

At least 50 people _ mostly Greeks _ were hospitalized with breathing problems, and several people were being treated for burns.

Officials said they are investigating whether arson was the cause of the blaze.

"The damage in Halkidiki was great and the circumstances very difficult," Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos said. "We express our regret for the death of the German tourist."

Halkidiki governor Argyris Lafazanis said many tourists were being bused back to their hotels Tuesday after the fire receded from several resorts.

Up to 1,000 British tourists fled the fire that tore through the resorts of Polychrono, Hanioti, Kriopigi and Pefkochori. Several hundred Germans, some 100 people from Scandinavian countries and about 100 Austrians also were involved in the evacuation.

Romanian authorities said about 1,000 of their nationals were in Halkidiki but it was not clear how many were affected by the fire.

Giorgos Kalatzis, minister for the administrative regions of Macedonia and Thrace, said conditions had improved Tuesday. "The firefighters are doing a good job," Kalatzis said.

The blaze destroyed about 12,000 acres of forest, more than 50 homes and dozens of cars, and left charred carcasses of farm animals strewn across blackened hillsides. Authorities declared a state of emergency late Monday.

Ten water-bombing planes and helicopters assisted more than 300 firefighters and soldiers, amid temperatures reaching 104 degrees Fahrenheit.


© 2006 The Associated Press