Source AP ©

Greek fires kill 64, foreign firefighters help to fight

Foreign firefighters and aircraft joined the battle Tuesday against blazes in southern Greece and officials expressed optimism that wildfires burning some of the country's lushest landscape could be brought under partial control.

Greece also braced for the economic impact of the worst wildfires in memory, with the government budgeting nearly a third of a billion euros for immediate relief. The bill was expected to be much higher, the finance ministry said. The fires, which began about five days ago, have killed at least 64 people and burned olive groves, forest and orchards in southern Greece.

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

The fire department said 56 fires broke out from Monday to Tuesday. 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.

He said most of the efforts would be concentrated in those two regions, with most of the firefighters that have arrived from 17 countries operating in the Peloponnese.

A group of 55 Israeli firefighters would be used to assist in combatting one of the worst fires in Krestena, near Ancient Olympia. Large parts of the world heritage site, which was the birthplace of the Olympic Games, were burned over the weekend.

Diamandis said that 18 planes and 18 helicopters - including four from Switzerland - would be used in the southern firefighting effort.

"The picture we have gives us some optimism" in the south, Diamandis said. "We have a good picture and hope for some good results."

Diamandis asked people to heed instructions from authorities and evacuate villages when asked to do so. Greece's civil defense agency said there was a high risk of fires around the country Tuesday because of high winds and temperatures, especially in the Athens region.

From the northern border with Albania to the southern island of Crete, fires ravaged forests and farmland. Residents used garden hoses, buckets, tin cans and branches in desperate - and sometimes futile - attempts to save their homes and livelihoods.