World watches as Grecian inferno nears sites of historical importance

Associated Press

ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece &#8212 Massive fires consuming large areas of southern Greece for a third day raced toward the site of the ancient Olympics on Sunday, engulfing villages and forests as the flames reached one of the most revered sites of antiquity.

At least 51 people were confirmed dead in the country’s worst wildfires in decades. There were fears the death toll could rise as new fires broke out.

“It’s hell everywhere,” said Costas Ladas, who said the fire covered more than a mile in three minutes. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

By sea and by land, authorities evacuated hundreds of people trapped by flames in villages, hotels and resorts.

A large front of fire was at the edge of the village of Ancient Olympia, which stands near the 2,800-year-old site itself.

“The winds are so strong that I don’t know whether the site’s sprinkling system will stop it,” said Costas Sofianos, deputy mayor of Ancient Olympia.

Although it was activated, not all of it appeared to be functioning.

The fire department said some trees at the sprawling site had burned, but that the museum was safe.

The worst of Greece’s fires were concentrated in the mountains of the Peloponnese in southern Greece and on the island of Evia north of Athens. New fires also broke out Sunday in the central region of Fthiotida -one of the few areas that had been unscathed, fire department spokesman Nikos Diamandis said.

The Culture Ministry said, “all means are being used, and all necessary measures have been taken” to save the site, and that the army had been called in to create a fire break.

The fire blazed into the nearby village of Varvasaina.

As residents rushed to battle the flames, others, stunned, walked the streets holding their heads in their hands.

Elsewhere, flames were less than two miles from the Temple of Apollo Epikourios, a 2,500-year-old monument near the town of Andritsaina in the southwestern Peloponnese.

“We are trying to save the Temple of Apollo, as well as Andritsaina itself,” Typhon Athanassopoulos, the town’s mayor, told Greek television.

A separate blaze had abated Sunday in Kalyvia, an area between Athens and the ancient site of Sounion to the south.

In the ravaged mountain villages in the Peloponnese, rescue crews on Saturday picked through the grim aftermath – dozens of charred bodies found across fields and homes.

Arson has been blamed in several cases, and seven people have been detained.