Swiss helicopters help to douse Greek fires

Super Puma helicopters like this one are fighting the fires Keystone

European countries, including Switzerland, have rushed to help Greece fight a series of forest fires, which have devastated swathes of the country and killed more than 60 people.

This content was published on August 27, 2007 - 16:05

Bern sent four firefighting helicopters to the region, each able to transport 2,500 litres of water, three of which are due to arrive on Monday.

The first helicopter was at the scene on Monday morning, after flying in from Kosovo, where it is normally stationed.

Experts from the Swiss foreign and defence ministries flew in a day earlier to prepare the ground.

Specialists from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation will join them shortly.

In a statement, the Swiss defence ministry confirmed that no Swiss nationals had been affected by the fires, which broke out last week.

Olympian home

On Sunday, firefighting efforts successfully prevented the birthplace of the Olympics in southern Greece from being ravaged.

Thierry Theurillat, an expert at the Swiss School of Archaeology in Greece, described the risk that the 2,800 year-old site faced on Swiss public radio.

"There are fires everywhere, which makes it difficult to protect archaeological ruins. On an ancient site, the stone remains are fragile and vulnerable to significant deterioration from the intensity of the flames," Theurillat said.

Tourism fallout?

The main region affected by the blazes, the Peloponnese peninsula, is not the number one destination in Greece for Swiss tourists.

"The most affected area is not that popular because it is a peninsula. The island Crete, for example, is much more popular," Staveoula Harvalas of the Greek Central for Tourism in Zurich told swissinfo.

From Sunday night to Monday morning, nearly 90 new fires had broken out, according to a report by the Associated Press. The local fire department considered about a third to be particularly dangerous.

More than 4,000 soldiers are fighting the fires, supported by military helicopters, and assistance from at least a dozen countries.

Greek police suspect arson, and a €1 million (SFr1.64 million) reward has been offered to help catch fire-starters.

Anti-terrorist squads have been questioning some of the 32 suspected arsonists arrested so far, as new fires continue to break out.

swissinfo, Faryal Mirza

Key facts

The Peloponnese peninsula covers 8,278 square miles (21,439 square km).
It is a mountainous body of land, which juts southward into the Mediterranean Sea.
It is an area steeped in history and is joined to mainland Greece by the Isthmus of Corinth.

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