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Crews Bring Wildfires Under Control in Greece

  • Reuters

A view of the Herodes Atticus theater as smoke from a raging wildfire rises in Athens, Greece, July 17, 2015.

A view of the Herodes Atticus theater as smoke from a raging wildfire rises in Athens, Greece, July 17, 2015.

Greek firefighters brought wildfires in Athens and the Peloponnese under control Saturday, but an off-duty police officer is thought to have died in one of the blazes.

A body recovered in Athens' Kareas district was confirmed to be that of a 47-year-old missing officer who had failed to return home after taking a walk, his wife said.

Two men, a Greek and a Bulgarian, were arrested on suspicion of accidentally starting the wildfire in the capital's northeastern outskirts, officials said. They allegedly lit a fire to smoke bees out of their hives in order to collect honey.

The fires, which started Friday and were fanned by strong winds and high temperatures, sent residents fleeing from flames threatening their homes. In all, police said, 52 separate fires had broken out on four main fronts in a region stretching from the island of Evia, northeast of Athens, to the southern Peloponnese.

A 58-year-old died after inhaling fumes and suffering respiratory problems but there were no other reports of casualties.

Summer wildfires, though common for the season, heaped additional misery on the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, which is struggling to obtain a new bailout from foreign creditors.

Tsipras urged calm as more than 140 firefighters with 80 fire engines and 11 aircraft battled the flames near Athens that crept close to homes.

A neighborhood playground was razed and flames surrounded the local church. Dozens of people, including elderly women covering their faces with headscarves, tried to put out the flames with buckets of water.

"We all need to stay calm," Tsipras told reporters.

He said he had asked the air force and armed forces for help and had also appealed to other European countries for assistance with extra fire-fighting aircraft.

A wildfire burns over the town of Neapoli, southern Greece, July 17, 2015.

A wildfire burns over the town of Neapoli, southern Greece, July 17, 2015.

Television footage showed huge plumes of smoke billowing over the town of Neapolis, with a wall of fire racing down a mountain fanned by very strong winds. Authorities said three communities in the region were evacuated.

"Things are very bad," Peloponnese Governor Petros Tatoulis told state television. "The situation is critical. We are working to prevent casualties."

Some information for this story came from AFP.

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