Winnipeg Free Press Thursday, September 27, 2007
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Manitoba offers water bombers to Greece

Updated at 4:47 PM

Manitoba has responded to a request from the Greek government for water bombers to help fight devastating wild fires that have claimed scores of lives.

The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre in Winnipeg received a request from the Greek embassy through the federal foreign affairs office Monday. Operations manager Tom Johnston says five bombers and three spotter planes have been offered, if required.

Manitoba and Alberta have each offered to send a pair of CL-215 aircraft, plus spotter planes and British Columbia has offered one of two giant Martin Mars bombers, plus a smaller "bird dog" plane and an air attack officer.

Johnston says the package was sent to foreign affairs early this afternoon for relay to the Greek officials.

If accepted, the planes would have to fly across Canada, leapfrogging to Europe via Greenland and Iceland and Great Britain.

He estimates it would take about three days of flying time, plus a day or two of setup once the aircraft reach Greece.

It's common for Canadian water bombers to be dispatched to the United States and even South America - including the Galapagos Islands.

Johnston says the centre is expecting to hear back on the offer Wednesday.

Foreign firefighters and aircraft have joined in battling the wildfires that have destroyed some of Greece's lushest landscape, and the death toll from five days of blazes rose to at least 64.

The devastating blazes have infuriated Greeks, already stunned by deadly forest fires in June and July, and appear likely to dominate political debate before general elections scheduled for Sept. 16.

Many Greeks blamed the conservative government for failing to respond quickly enough.

The country's worst fires in memory have burned olive groves, forests, orchards and homes, and the government budgeted upward of US$410 million for immediate relief, although the bill was expected to be much higher, the Finance Ministry said.

Southern Greece, where the flames reached the birthplace of the Olympic Games in Ancient Olympia, was the worst area affected, although one fire official said there were signs of optimism in the fight.

The destruction was so extensive that authorities said they had no way of knowing how many hectares were burned or how many people have been injured. New blazes broke out faster than others could be brought under control, leaving behind a landscape of blackened tree trunks, gutted houses and dead livestock.

The mayor of Zaharo, in the western Peloponnese, said the body of a missing shepherd had been found Monday. Rescuers were still searching for another shepherd missing from the nearby village of Artemida, where 23 people, including a mother and her four children, died on Aug. 24.

Some 56 new fires broke out Monday and today, the fire department said.

The worst were concentrated in the mountains of the Peloponnese in the south and on the island of Evia north of Athens, spokesman Nikos Diamandis said.

Firefighting efforts were concentrating on one front burning in the Seta area of Evia, and on the village of Matesi, near Zaharo in the western Peloponnese. Most of the firefighters who have arrived from 20 countries are operating in the Peloponnese, Diamandis said.

A group of 55 Israeli firefighters were sent to one of the worst fires in Krestena, near Ancient Olympia. Parts of the 2,800-year-old World Heritage site were burned over the weekend, although the ancient ruins and the museum were unscathed.

By Tuesday, the site was open to visitors, and a few dozen tourists walked around the charred area.

Meanwhile, a strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5 struck the fire-ravaged area in the south, panicking residents, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.





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