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Fires Rage in Southern Europe; 3 Dead in Greece As Heat Wave Starts to Abate

ATHENS, Greece (AP) --Fires raged in several southern European nations on Thursday, burning through villages, forests, and farmland and stretching firefighting services to the limit, even as a weeklong heat wave blamed for dozens of deaths began to abate.

The fires were blamed for at least three deaths overnight in Greece, where hundreds of firefighters and soldiers tackled 100 blazes, 15 of which were burning out of control.

A regional heat wave has fueled the blazes but temperatures began to dip Thursday, falling from 113 degrees to a predicted high of 102 degrees in Athens and to about 86 degrees in Serbia. Romania, where 33 deaths were blamed on the heat wave, also saw temperatures fall from 106 degrees to 88 degrees. Cooler weather was predicted until Sunday, after which the heat was expected to spike again.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis appealed to Russia for help, and Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would send firefighting planes on Friday, the prime minister's office said. It did not give details on how many Russian aircraft would be sent.

The country's largest blaze, near the town of Aegio, killed three elderly people, authorities said. Several areas declared emergencies and numerous houses were destroyed, officials said.

The fires scorched the holiday islands of Chios and Cephallonia, where an estimated 11,000 acres of forest were destroyed. Cephallonia's popular seaside village of Skala was evacuated during the night, including hundreds of tourists in hotels, hotel worker Nikos Kapatsos said. By Thursday afternoon, the fire in that area had been extinguished, he said.

To the north in Serbia, several fires were destroying hundreds of acres of forest and brushland. A Russian firefighting plane and Serbian military planes were called in to help, police spokesman Predrag Maric said.

In Bosnia, several small fires spiraled out of control, and a state of emergency was declared Thursday in the southeast town of Stolac. Firefighters were confronted with a 37-mile-long line of fire that developed from 12 smaller fires during the day, officials said. Several villages were evacuated, while army helicopters and firefighters from other cities were called in.

Neighboring Croatia recorded about 800 forest fires in July alone, which firefighters said was more than any summer in the past decade. On Thursday, a fire still raged on the southern island of Solta, sending tourists fleeing. Firefighters were also battling several blazes across the Croatian coast.

A forest fire burning since Sunday in eastern Slovakia was being tackled by more than 50 firefighters and two helicopters, and was still not under control, the local TASR news agency said.

In Italy, fires continued in the Calabria region, but were under control in the southeastern region of Puglia. The superintendent of the Pollino National Park in Calabria, Domenico Pappaterra, said ``the situation remains very dramatic, especially in the high region of the park.''

In Greece and Italy, officials have blamed some fires on arson motivated by attempts to clear land for development. But soaring temperatures from the region's second heat wave in as many months have also contributed to the fires by leaving vast swathes of the region parched.
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