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Forest fires rage in southern Greece; 15 killed, including 9 trapped in cars
Fire approaches the cemetery in Taygetos, southern Peloponese, Greece on Friday Aug. 24, 2007. Massive fires whipped by gale-force winds killed at least four people in southern Greece Friday and led authorities to evacuate parts of a town and several villages. - photo by Associated Press
    ATHENS, Greece — Forest fires whipped by gale-force winds killed at least 15 people in southern Greece Friday, including at least nine people trapped in their cars as the flames approached.
    Across the country, more than 150 fires were burning, and the government appealed to the European Union to ‘‘send any help they can,’’ acting Interior Minister Spyros Flogaitis said after an emergency meeting of Greece’s civil protection department.
    Hot, dry winds gusting to gale force prevented firefighting planes from taking off, leaving only ground forces to fight the flames in the southern Peloponnese, with occasional help from helicopters and residents using their garden hoses. A three-day heat wave, with temperatures up to 104 degrees, has left forests and scrubland parched on the peninsula linked to the Greek mainland by a narrow isthmus.
    At least nine people were killed and several others were injured in a fire that broke out on Friday afternoon in the western Peloponnese, near the town of Zaharo, the fire department said. All were found in or near their cars, the department said, possibly as they tried to flee.
    ‘‘The next few hours will be critical,’’ said Panagiotis Efstathiou, a senior health ministry official.
    Zaharo police said at least three villages were evacuated, while media reports said some towns were surrounded by flames.
    In Greece’s deadliest day of forest fires for years, another six people died in the southern Peloponnese near the town of Areopolis. Efstathiou said five of them were burned to death near a hotel on the outskirts of Areopolis, while a sixth — a firefighter — died of a heart attack. The bodies of the five were too badly burned to be immediately identified, Efstathiou said.
    ‘‘The situation is dramatic,’’ fire department spokesman Nikos Diamandis said earlier in the day. He said firefighters were concentrating on built-up areas.
    In the rugged mountains of the southern Peloponnese, three major fires continued burning out of control on Friday evening: one near Areopolis, one on Mount Taigetos and another on Mount Parnonas to the east. Authorities declared a state of emergency in two areas.
    Several villages were evacuated and major roads, including the highway between Sparta and the town of Kalamata in the south, were closed. Local television footage showed residents with garden hoses joining firefighters to battle the flames.
    Greece has suffered one of its worst summers for forest fires this year, with hundreds of blazes burning thousands of acres of forest and brush across the country, including three of the four mountains ringing the capital.

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