Olympia saved but Greeks fume

Critics say government fighting fires at historical site but not helping citizens.

Fire at Olympia
About 90 firefighters and soldiers, along with five aircraft battled to save Olympia [Reuters]

Many people have been forced to flee homes they have lived in for decades.
Toll rising
Three planes and two helicopters bombarded the Olympia blaze. About 90 firefighters and soldiers were deployed in the area.

Firefighters managed to save ancient Olympia after flames lapped at the walls on Sunday. 

 – Olympia has been inhabited since prehistoric times and in the 10th century BC became a centre for the worship of Zeus.

 – It was the site of the Olympic Games from 776 BC until the third century AD and the remains of the sports structures are still visible.

 – Olympia’s museum houses a number of famous classical sculptures, such as Hermes by Praxiteles, and other finds from the collapsed pagan temples.

 – The area has been designated as a Unesco world heritage site.

The army was called in to create a fire break. “All means are being used, and all necessary measures have been taken,” the culture ministry said.

But those efforts were not enough to save the grounds of the International Olympic Academy near the museum, which were completely burned, as was the grove where the heart of Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, is buried.


And that “victory” did not count for much elsewhere in the country.


Nikos Diamandis, a fire department spokesman, said on Sunday: “Fires are burning in more than half the country.”


More than 60 new blazes broke out on Sunday and the fire department said 42 major fires were still blazing out of control.


The fires have now killed 60 people, including two firefighters, since they started on Friday and the toll is likely to rise.
Officials are calling the destruction and carnage an “unprecedented disaster” and the government has declared a state of emergency.
The forest fires, the worst in Greece for decades, broke out on Friday and have since erupted on scores of fronts around the country, prompting Costas Karamanlis, the Greek prime minister, to blame arsonists for some of the blazes.


The government has offered a $1.36m reward for information on suspected arsonists.
Around the town of Zaharo thick smoke blocked out the sun and could be seen almost 100km away.

Satellite images show the extent
of the blaze in the Peloponnese [AFP]

Laurence Lee, reporting for Al Jazeera from close to Zaharo, said: “In this entire region there are five fire engines. We’ve seen no army here and I don’t think they are expecting to see the army here. They [residents] say they’ve been abandoned.

“They don’t exactly blame the authorities for this – clearly they blame primarily the arsonists – but because this has happened before and because they haven’t had any help before they really don’t expect anything this time. But the problem is this is clearly so much worse.”

State of emergency

In the Peloponnese and across other regions, forest fires have cut a swath of destruction, burning about 500 homes, thousands of acres of forest and farmland and causing thousands to flee.
Foreign firefighters and aircraft, including from Europe and Israel, joined efforts by the Greek military and firefighters to stem the blaze after Greece declared a state of emergency across the country on Saturday.
Nicole Itano, a journalist in Athens, told Al Jazeera: “No one here can remember a time when a national disaster for the entire nation has been called. That is in many ways a reflection of the degree of seriousness of what we’ve been seeing in the last few days.”

Residents say they have been left
to fend for themselves [Reuters]

She said there was a “political element” to declaring a state of emergency.

“There has been a lot of criticism about the government’s handling of this and this is in some ways an attempt to give themselves a bit of breathing space – it makes it very difficult for opposition parties to turn this into a political issue.”
The government, which faces snap elections on September 16, has been criticised for reacting too slowly to forest fires in the past and the recent blazes have already election campaigns.
“If they had any self respect, all politicians would resign. There is no state and they are all absent,” said a resident in the village of Haria in the Peloponnese.
Politicians interrupted their campaigning because of the fires and flags flew at half mast for three days of mourning.
Itano said: “This is certainly something that is going to be on the political agenda, but I think right now the government would like to focus on fighting the fires rather than fighting the political storm around them.”
Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies