Ancient Olympia Saved From Wildfire, Arson Suspects in Custody

ATHENS, Greece, August 7, 2021 (ENS) – An extensive fire on the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece today threatened the site of Ancient Olympia, where the first Olympic Games were held. Today, this is where the Olympic flame is passed to the first torchbearer of the upcoming Olympic Games, such as those currently coming to a close in Tokyo, Japan.

The stadium at Olympia was a holy place for the ancient Greeks, where sporting events dedicated to Zeus were held. Ruins of the original structures still exist, and firefighters have been going all out to keep the treasured ancient sites safe from the flames.

The Greeks started the Olympic Games in 776 BC, and they were held nearly every four years for over a thousand years until they were banned by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I in 393 AD. On April 6, 1896, the Olympic Games were reborn in Athens.

Two villages near the ancient Olympic site were evacuated on Wednesday. After an all-night battle with the flames, on Thursday firefighters saved the site, with the ancient treasures out of danger, Culture Minister Lina Mendoni told ANT1 television.

Other devastating wildfires in Turkey and other areas along the Mediterranean have forced widespread evacuations. Thousands fled wildfires in Greece and Turkey on Friday, including a huge blaze just north of the Greek capital, Athens that left one person dead.

More than 1,000 firefighters and nearly 20 aircraft are trying to extinguish fires across Greece, while firefighters, planes, helicopters and vehicles are still arriving from France, Switzerland, Romania, Cyprus, Croatia, Israel, Sweden and the United States. Approximately 80 French and 40 Cypriot firefighters joined efforts to battle the blazes north of Athens.

Greek firefighter at work near Athens, August 7, 2021, (Photo courtesy Athens News Agency – Macedonian Press Agency (ANA-MPA) via Twitter)

British firefighters are deploying urgently to Greece to assist with the wildfires, at the Home Secretary’s request. Two firefighting planes from Cyprus are supporting Greece, in addition to a firefighting team on the ground.

On the Greek island of Evia, the Hellenic Coast Guard evacuated hundreds of people by sea, using fishing boats and private vessels as well as patrol boats to rescue residents and visitors from the flames overnight and into Friday.

Today, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis expressed his gratitude and thanks to the personnel of the Fire Brigade, the Hellenic Coast Guard, the Hellenic Police and to the volunteers who are battling the numerous fires across the country, speaking after his briefing at the Fire Brigade’s Athens headquarters.

“The situation is slightly better than what it was on Friday,” Mitsotakis said. The firefighters are working “with great intensity to contain all fires and prevent any further rekindling.”

The Greek premier also expressed “deep sorrow for what has happened,” and said he wanted to “assure anew all those afflicted by the fires that their recovery will be my first political priority.”

Mitsotakis stressed that “the reforesting of all burned areas will come soon and will be official,” and that upgrades and improvements regarding reforestation policy and the design of anti-flood and anti-erosion planning are also in the works.

Greece faced a total 154 fires across the country on Friday, Deputy Civil Protection Minister for Crisis Management Nikos Hardalias said Friday night, with 98 of those fires being new within 24 hours.

At the press briefing, Hardalias said that 64 fires are still burning. The most important ones, he said, are in Attica; Evia island; Ilia including the new fire in Ancient Olympia; Messinia and Mani in the Peloponnese; and Tolofona, Fokida, Fthiotida all in Central Greece; as well as the island of Crete; and Grevena in Macedonia.

Hardalias said all available forces are fighting the fires, and thanked all firefighters and volunteers working under very difficult and often risky conditions. He expressed condolences for the volunteer firefighter who lost his life at Ippokratios Politia on Friday.

Ancient Olympia is in the Ilia Region and the regional Vice-Governor Vassilis Giannopoulos told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA) Saturday that fire at the town of Achladini has damaged houses, while traffic on the Tripolis-Pirgos national highway has been closed from Kalliani to the 106 km.

He said that in the Athens suburb of Varybobi, where a great fire started on Tuesday and spread from forested Mt. Parnitha as far as the Lake Marathon reservoir, a total of 720 firefighters are working, with 40 terrain teams and 215 fire trucks, along with more than a dozen airplanes and helicopters, which must stop operations at night.

Arson Suspects in Custody

Hardalias said that the Fire Brigade has activated teams of arson investigators, who will work with local offices and police in Attica, Tolofon, Evia, Ilia and Messinia.

So far, three people have been arrested, in Fokida prefecture of Central Greece, Attica and Kalamata. The Attica suspect was held for intention to set fire and in Kalamata for repeatedly having set fires, with three of them confirmed.

Featured image: The palaestra of Olympia on the site of the Ancient Olympic Games was devoted to the training of wrestlers and other athletes nearly 3,000 years ago. (Photo by Bgabel courtesy Wikipedia)

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