Greek fires kill 51 and threaten Olympia

ZACHARO, Greece (Reuters) – EU firefighters and planes joined the battle on Sunday against the fires raging in Greece for three days, killing 51 people and threatening areas near ancient Olympia, historic site of the first Olympic games.

Greece declared a state of emergency on Saturday as towering walls of flame cut a swathe of destruction through the southern Peloponnese peninsula and across other areas of the country.

The fires have bathed Athens in white ash, forced thousands to flee their villages and burned about 500 homes and thousands of acres of forest and farmland.

Fire brigades on Sunday began evacuating villages near ancient Olympia as strong winds pushed the flames towards the historic site near the Peloponnese’s western Ionian coast.

“We are concerned not only about the archaeological site but about the whole area,” town mayor George Aidonis told Reuters. “We depend on tourism for our livelihood and now everything is being destroyed.”

About 90 firefighters and soldiers were trying to stop the flames from reaching the site, which installed a well organized fire protection system for the 2004 Athens Olympics.

“We have no water, we are at God’s mercy,” a resident from a village near Olympia told Greek television by phone. “Please tell someone we are putting out the fire with our own hands, we have no help. The village will disappear from the map.”

Ancient Olympia boasts ruins of the stadium and pagan temples that hosted the ancient games for centuries from 776 BC and is the site of an Olympic flame ceremony every two years.;_ylt=AnhM8B8z5Bs07bSoXOAw6RNbbBAF

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