Raging wildfires in Greece have killed over 50 people and destroyed hundreds of houses as firemen were largely forced to wait for sunrise on Sunday before renewing the battle against the massive blazes.
Residents of the Peloponnese peninsula, in southern Greece and on Euboea island hunkered down for another night of horror Saturday as an early loss of daylight caused firemen to shut down helicopters and planes working to contain the blazes.
At least 190 fires were burning across the region, countless still uncontrolled. Authorities fear that the death toll will rise as hundreds of people were trapped in remote villages encircled by flames on the Peloponnese peninsula.
Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis on Saturday declared a state of emergency and three days of mourning. Flags on all public buildings would fly at half-mast until Monday.
Karamanlis blamed arsonists for the horrors of the last few days as police arrested seven people in connection with the blazes. It could not be "coincidence" that the fires broke out in such a short time, Karamanlis said in televised remarks, adding that his government would do everything to bring the perpetrators to justice.
About 70,000 hectares of land and hundreds of houses have burned to the ground over the past three days, media reports said.
The European Union and its members offered aid, manpower and equipment to help - some 19 planes and 18 helicopters poured water on the blaze through Saturday.
"It's terrible. I have never experienced anything like this. We keep finding charred bodies lying on the streets. There's a mother with her four children here," the president of the Greek journalists' association, Panos Sombolos said in a television report from the tiny village of Makitos in the western Peloponnese.
Two rural towns in the western Peloponnese have been worst hit by the blaze. About 30 people have died in Artemida and Makistos, including seven children. Many were burned alive trying to flee from the fires by car.
Several hundred people were evacuated with small ferries from the small seaside town of Nea Styra on the second largest Greek island Euboea.
Forest fires also broke out simultaneously in several places near Athens, starting to affect houses in the Papagou district and setting the top of a five-storey building ablaze, Greek state television reported.
Fire services managed to bring thee blaze under control within few minutes and no one was injured.
Nikos Diamantis, spokesman for the fire brigade, said that the fire in the north-east of the city had been caused by arson.
A number of villages were evacuated on the Peloponnese peninsula. A massive fire raged out of control near the southern Greek port of Kalamata. Other fires burned near Sparta, Corinth and Tripolis.
"These hours are difficult for us all. They are the hours for taking charge and fighting," Karamanlis said on a visit to Zacharo Friday evening, promising financial aid for everyone affected by the fires, radio reports said.