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All Greek fires under control, damage counted

All major blazes in Greece were under control Friday, and firefighters were working to extinguish smaller fires in the southern part of the country.
Yiannis Pothos, 19, on Wednesday stands inside what was his home in the village of Makistos, southwestern Greece. Petros Giannakouris / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

All major blazes in Greece were under control Friday, and firefighters were working to extinguish smaller fires in the southern part of the country.

One week after hundreds of wildfires broke out across Greece, killing 64 people and costing the country at least $1.6 billion, the fire department said the last major fire near the town of Kato Kotyli "no longer has an active front and is receding."

But it warned in an announcement that just because "we are in a phase where fires are receding, that does not mean that the danger has been eliminated."

Meanwhile, thousands of people lined up outside banks for a third day to receive emergency aid, and the government said 20,000 people received a total of $98 million since banks started to hand out the funds Wednesday.

But officials said they would tighten checks on the fast-track aid process after at least 15 people were arrested in the southwestern city of Pyrgos for allegedly making false claims.

Initial government estimates indicate at least 1,500 homes were gutted in the southern Peloponnese peninsula and on the island of Evia, just north of Athens. But there are concerns that figure could double. At least 4,000 people were left homeless, but that number also could double.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who faces a close race for re-election in less than three weeks, promised to rebuild all homes destroyed by the fires through a new disaster relief fund made up of state and private contributions. He said homeless families would initially be provided with prefabricated homes.

Karamanlis did not say how much that would cost.

The European Commissioner for Regional Policy, Danuta Hubner, flew over the burned regions Friday to assess how much aid Greece needed. She said after meeting Karamanlis that Greece would probably receive $237 million in emergency aid and could be eligible for another $546 million, depending on the damage caused by the fires.

"The European Commission is determined to explore all possible means of support and assure the mobilization of available funds in order to help," she said.

A help line set up for fire victims and offers of help has received tens of thousands of calls, mostly from people who want to contribute aid. Government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said private donations from Greeks has amounted to more than $52 million. The government has so far budgeted around $450 million for such aid.

The fires are dominating political debate before the Sept. 16 elections. Criticism that the government failed to respond quickly enough — and its suggestions the fires resulted from an organized attack — could hurt Karamanlis.

A series of polls have indicated that the conservatives had a razor-thin margin over George Papandreou's main opposition Socialist Party.