Livni offers Israeli assistance for Greek blazes

25 firefighters to be flown to Greece; at least 57 die in weekend of forest fires.

greece fires 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
greece fires 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
25 firefighters with full equipment will leave Monday morning from Israel to Greece to assist the neighboring country in extinguishing forest fires raging since Friday, a source in the Foreign Ministry told The Jerusalem Post, Sunday. The firefighters were expected to leave already on Sunday, but as they will be traveling on commercial flights, fully packed planes leaving Ben Gurion Airport delayed their departure by a day. On Saturday night, following a request for assistance by Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, Israel was readying three helicopters, but a technical issue - the aircraft in Israel's possession being unsuited for the task because of a tangible risk of the vessels overheating - prevented them from being sent. The Greeks also requested that Israel send planes capable of carrying seawater, but these types of aircraft are not used by Israeli firefighting services, the Ministry told the Post. The forest fires killed at least 57 people and injured dozens more. Earlier Saturday, the Greek fire department said that a man has been arrested on suspicion of arson and homicide. The Greek prime minister declared a nationwide state of emergency following the disaster. "All regions of the country are declared in a state of emergency ... to stop this evil and to start repairing the destruction as soon as possible," Costas Karamanlis said in a televised address to the nation. Since Friday morning, more than 170 blazes have swept across the country, with the most devastating in the Peloponnese to the south. New fires broke out Saturday, and fears grew that the death toll could increase as rescue crews reached villages that had been cut off by walls of flames. The skies above Athens turned red with smoke, and ashes fell in the center of the capital as wind drove the flames across the parched landscape. The fires were so severe that authorities said they could not yet provide an estimate of how much damage they had caused, nor what expanse of land had been burned. News reports put the death toll at 50, although authorities could not immediately confirm the higher number. The deadliest fire was in the western Peloponnese near the town of Zaharo. It cost more than 30 lives, including those of a mother and her four children. "The country is in a state of emergency. I call on all citizens to assist in the collective fight, which must be won for the good of the country," Karamanlis said in his address. "I feel deep pain for the mother who perished in the flames with her arms round her children." Throughout the night and into Saturday, desperate residents and local mayors trapped by fires in remote villages called television and radio stations to appeal for help from overstretched firefighters. It was unclear how many people remained trapped in remote villages on Saturday afternoon.