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Greek fires kill 51, threaten ancient Olympia

Firefighters battle to protect Ancient Olympia in Greece as forest fires that have killed 51 people rages unabated for a third day.

world Updated: Aug 26, 2007 21:13 IST

Firefighters battled to protect Ancient Olympia in Greece on Sunday as forest fires that have killed 51 people raged unabated for a third day.

Fire brigades evacuated villages near Olympia, site of the first Olympic Games, as flames pushed up to the outskirts of the historic site on Greece's southern Peloponnese peninsula.

The fires were nearing the site's museum, housing a number of famous classical sculptures such as Hermes by Praxiteles and other finds from collapsed pagan temples and sport facilities, television said.

EU firefighters and planes joined the battle after Greece declared a state of emergency on Saturday. Towering walls of flame have cut a swathe of destruction through the Peloponnese and swept across other regions.

The fires have bathed Athens in white ash, forced thousands to flee their villages and burned about 500 homes and thousands of acres of forest and farmland.

Fire brigade spokesman Nikos Diamandis said the "goal is to stop the fire from going through the Ancient Olympia site" but he noted: "Despite our efforts, there has been no progress."

Three planes and 2 helicopters bombarded the blaze, which had reached the villages of Pelopio and Platanos near Olympia. About 90 firefighters and soldiers were deployed in the area.

Haralambos Giannaras, manager of the Greek Olympic Committee facilities, said staff were vacating the site and noted the fire has "crossed the hill and is heading towards the museum."

Officials said a well organised fire protection system was installed at the site for the 2004 Athens Olympics. Residents of nearby villages complained that all rescue efforts were directed at the ancient site while their homes burned.

First Published: Aug 26, 2007 21:10 IST