As Greek government dithers, wildfires rage

ATHENS, Greece — Extensive forest fires continued to rage for the fifth day throughout Greece, Aug. 28, spreading death and destruction to thousands of families and their homes. At least 64 people were reported dead, with many more injured. Thousands have been made homeless.

Hundreds of villages have been completely destroyed, while hundreds of villagers remained trapped as fire lines cut off access to safety. At press time, scores of villages were being evacuated and more than 50 were under immediate threat of destruction.

An explosive mixture of tinder-dry forests and very high winds have caused new blazes to break out faster than others can be brought under control, leaving behind a landscape of blackened tree trunks, gutted houses, destroyed orchards and dead livestock.

Many Greek residents have been forced to put the fires out on their own — with garden hoses, blankets and tree branches — as the conservative New Democracy government failed to take timely and comprehensive measures to combat the fire. On the fifth day, some foreign firefighters and aircraft joined the battling of the wildfires.

The Greek government has also failed to adequately address the growing shortages of food, water and shelter.

“We have been destroyed, we have nothing left,” Katerina Andonopoulou, a 76-year-old woman, told a reporter for The Associated Press as she was trudging from the edge of Ancient Olympia to her destroyed house in the nearby village of Platano. She was laden with a massive bundle of grass for the five surviving goats from her flock of 20. “Who will help us now?”

Many believe the fires have been set by arsonists in a coordinated manner during gale force winds, which has made fire control virtually impossible. As many as 25 new fires continue to break out nightly.

In the past, unscrupulous land developers have been blamed for setting fires to try to circumvent laws that do not allow construction on forest land. Many people here accuse such ruthless land developers for setting the Greek countryside ablaze, but few arrests have been made.

State spending for forest management has been sharply cut over the past 15 years under both the social-democratic PASOK and conservative New Democracy governments, which have also collaborated to pass laws that open up vast tracts of forest land for private development.

laurajopetricola @yahoo.com

The Associated Press contributed to this story.