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Flames ravage Greek seaside as wildfires kill 74

Authorities said that 26 bodies were discovered at a seaside resort this morning.

Updated Jul 24th 2018, 6:40 PM

Greece Forest Fire Source: Thanassis Stavrakis

THE DEATH TOLL from a series of fires sweeping Greece has climbed again to 74.

Orange flames engulfed pine forests, turning them to ash and leaving lines of charred cars in the smoke-filled streets of seaside towns near Athens after the fires broke on Monday.

Rescuers rushed to evacuate residents and tourists stranded on beaches.

Others were overtaken by the flames in their homes, on foot or in their cars. AFP photographers saw the burnt bodies of humans and dogs.

The charred bodies of 26 people, including small children, were discovered in the courtyard of a villa at the seaside resort of Mati, 40 kilometres northeast of the capital, said rescuer Vassilis Andriopoulos.

They were huddled together in small groups, “perhaps families, friends or strangers, entwined in a last attempt to protect themselves as they tried to reach the sea”, he said.

“The problem is what is still hidden under the ashes,” said Vice President of Emergency Services Miltiadis Mylonas.

The government said that 308 engineers will arrive on site by tomorrow to assess the damage.

Video footage showed people fleeing by car as the tourist-friendly Attica region declared a state of emergency.

“I saw the fire move down the hill at around 6:00 pm and five or ten minutes later it was in my garden,” said 60-year old Athanasia Oktapodi.

Her home is surround by dry pine trees.

“They caught fire. I ran out like a crazy person, got to the beach and put my head in the water. Then the patrol boats came.”

Death toll soars

Greece Forest Fire Source: AP

Fire service spokeswoman Stavroula Maliri raised the overall death toll to 74 from an earlier count of 60.

She said the toll was not yet final since firefighters were still searching for victims.

We continue to receive “dozens of calls” from people looking for relatives, she said.

Winds of more than 100 kilometres per hour in Mati caused a “sudden progression of fire” through the village, said Maliri.

“Mati no longer exists,” said the mayor of nearby Rafina, Evangelos Bournous. He added that more than a thousand buildings and 300 cars had been damaged.

According to Maliri, 82 people remained in hospital tonight including 10 adults needing respiratory assistance and almost a dozen children.

Officials said they were Greece’s deadliest blazes in more than a decade.

At least six people died trying to escape the flames into the sea. Some 715 people were evacuated by boats to Rafina, the government said.

“People are shocked, lost. Some of them have lost everything: children, parents, homes,” said Red Cross spokeswoman Georgia Trisbioti.

GREECE-KINETA-WILDFIRE Firefighters work at Kineta near Athens, Greece. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras cut short a visit to Bosnia to return home. He announced three days of national mourning.

Anticipating questions about the high death toll and the emergency planning, Tsipras stressed the “extreme” scale of the fires.

Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said “15 fires had started simultaneously on three different fronts in Athens” yesterday.

The European Union activated its Civil Protection Mechanism after Greece sought help. Several countries said they were sending aircraft to help fight the flames.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted that the EU “will spare no effort to help Greece and the Greek people”.

40-degree heat

Greece Forest Fire Source: Thanassis Stavrakis

Tsipras said “all emergency forces” have been mobilised to battle the fires.

Interior Minister Panos Skourletis said the priority was to extinguish a fire that was still burning in Kineta, 50 kilometres from Athens.

Near the town of Marathon, residents fled to safety along the beach, while 600 children were evacuated from holiday camps in the area.

Officials raised the possibility the blazes could have been started deliberately by criminals out to ransack abandoned homes.

“I am really concerned by the parallel outbreak of these fires,” Tsipras said.

Supreme court prosecutors announced they had opened an investigation into the causes of the fire.

Fires are a common problem in Greece during the summer. Blazes in 2007 on the southern island of Evia claimed 77 lives.

Temperatures have climbed to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) but showers and falling temperatures were expected later in Athens.

Here, the Department of Foreign Affairs is providing consular assistance to a number of individuals in Greece.

© AFP 2018 

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