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From the Associated Press


Fire Scorches Greek Tourist Island

Thursday July 12, 2007 9:31 PM


Associated Press Writer

ATHENS, Greece (AP) - Hundreds of tourists fled vacation homes and hotels Thursday when a forest fire swept across the island of Skiathos as hot, dry conditions persisted across Greece, authorities said.

Whipped by strong winds, the fire raced through pine forests after igniting at a garbage dump on Skiathos's southwest coast near the beach town of Aghia Paraskevi.

Eighty firefighters - including 50 from special units brought in by plane - fought the Skiathos blaze with seven fire trucks, three water-dropping planes and two helicopters. Later, another four airplanes were flown in from Athens to battle the blaze.

Aghia Paraskevi, which is lined with holiday houses and hotels, was evacuated as a precaution. Hundreds of tourists were also evacuated from hotels in nearby Troulos.

``The situation is out of control, very difficult,'' said Skiathos Mayor Nikos Plomaritis. ``We're doing everything possible to save people's homes.''

As of late afternoon no houses had been destroyed, although several had been damaged. Half the island was left without electricity.

Skiathos, in the north-central Aegean, is a popular summer destination famed for its beaches and thick pine forests.

The fire came a day after a large forest fire near Rethymnon on the southern island of Crete killed three firefighters and left a fourth hospitalized.

Another fire, on the Pelion peninsula, also was burning Thursday. Several others, including three in central Greece, two in Crete and one near Thessaloniki in northern Greece, had been brought under control.

Unusually hot weather in recent weeks left much of the country in tinderbox conditions and prompted the government to issue fire-alert warnings for much of the country, while scrambling to deploy its limited firefighting capability to danger zones. High winds have increased the danger of the fires spreading unpredictably.

In late June, when temperatures hit 115 degrees, two people died in a wildfire outside Larissa in central Greece. Also last month, a huge forest fire destroyed large swaths of a national park on Mount Parnitha, near Athens, killing red deer and other protected animals.

Protesters have demanded tougher forest protection laws, arguing the government mishandled the Parnitha firefighting effort.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007