THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — In a tragedy related to Greece's financial crisis, three children died in a northern village Saturday when a fire burned down the home of their grandparents, who were using a wooden stove because heating oil prices have soared, officials and residents said.
The blaze started in the stove and quickly engulfed the house, whose roof collapsed on two of the victims, aged 5 and 7. The older brother, 15, tried to rescue his younger siblings and died of smoke inhalation, firefighters said.
The children's grandparents and parents, as well as three other siblings — two girls and a boy — escaped. The father sustained slight burns. The couple and the children were spending the weekend at the home in the village of Mesoropi, 130 kilometers (80 miles) east of Thessaloniki.
The fire threatened nearby houses, but firefighters extinguished it after about 45 minutes.
The house had central heating, firefighters said, but residents say the family switched to wood recently.
"They had oil heating. They put on a stove this year, as many other villagers did, because of the crisis. Things are very tight," said Vangelis Bozoudis, a resident of Mesoropi.
The price of heating oil has soared this year in Greece. Until last spring, heating oil was sold at a much lower price than diesel fuel, but, because a lot of heating oil was used illegally as diesel fuel to circumvent the higher price, the government decided to harmonize the prices.
As a result, the cost of heating oil has increased almost 40 percent, leaving many Greek families — whose incomes have already taken a big hit from years of recession, fiscal austerity and soaring unemployment — no option but to switch to cheaper forms of heating.
Bozoudis and other villagers of Mesoropi, contacted by phone, said that this incident would not have happened if the family still used heating oil and wondered how many more accidents like that would take place across the country.
Demetris Nellas contributed to this report from Athens, Greece.