Greek fires reach ancient Olympics site

August 28, 2007 - 0:0

ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece (AP) -- Firefighters backed by aircraft dropped water and foam on the birthplace of the ancient Olympics Sunday to stop wildfires from burning the 2,800-year-old ruins, one of the most revered sites of antiquity.

But the fires burning for three straight days obliterated vast swathes of the country and the death toll rose by 11 on Sunday to 60.
Desperate residents appealed through television stations for help from a firefighting service already stretched to the limit and many blamed authorities for leaving them defenseless.
""Fires are burning in more than half the country,"" said fire department spokesman Nikos Diamandis. ""This is definitely an unprecedented disaster for Greece.""
Diamandis said 89 new fires broke out during a 24-hour period starting at 6 a.m. Sunday. Twenty-eight were considered particularly dangerous.
Government and firefighting officials have suggested arson caused many of the blazes, and several people had been arrested. The government offered a reward of up to $1.36 million for anyone providing information that would lead to the arrest of an arsonist.
Forest fires are common during Greece's hot, dry summers — but nothing has approached the scale of the last three days. Arson is often suspected, mostly to clear land for development. No construction is allowed in Greece in areas designated as forest land, and fires are sometimes set to circumvent the law.
The front of one fire Sunday reached Ancient Olympia in southern Greece, burning trees and shrubs just a few yards from the museum at the site. Firefighters said the flames, fanned by high winds and swirling air, leaped hundreds of feet in the air at times.
The nearby grounds of the International Olympic Academy were completely burned, as was the grove where the heart of Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, is buried.
Although the pristine forest around Ancient Olympia was burned, none of the ruins were damaged.
""Firefighters fought a battle in Ancient Olympia, which was won,"" Diamandis said. Authorities said at least two firefighters had been injured in the battle with the flames on Sunday