Raging Wildfires Kill 100 People in East Greece

Published July 24th, 2018 - 12:55 GMT
(Shutterstock/ File Photo)
(Shutterstock/ File Photo)

Dozens of people were killed when a wildfire blazed through the resort town of Mati in eastern Greece.

At least 100 were injured in what is by far the country’s worst fire since flames devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing dozens. 

Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said in a televised statement early on Tuesday that the death toll exceeded 20 while more than 88 adults and 16 children were injured.

The coastguard later said the bodies of four more people were retrieved from the sea.

One of the youngest victims was thought to be a six-month-old baby who died of smoke inhalation.

Hundreds of people had scrambled to the sea as the blaze closed in close to the shore. They were picked up by passing boats.

Some parts of Mati were still smoldering white smoke early on Tuesday. Burned-out cars were scattered outside gated compounds where three- and four-storey buildings bore signs of fire damage.

“We are dealing with something completely asymmetric,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, looking pale, said after cutting short a visit to Bosnia.

Greece issued an urgent appeal for help to tackle fires that raged out of control in several places across the country, destroying homes and disrupting major transport links. Cyprus and Spain offered assistance after Greece said it needed air and land assets from European Union partners.

The inferno dominated front pages in the country on Tuesday, with headlines such as “killer fire” and “hell” and newspapers reporting fears the death toll would climb.

Authorities said they would be making use of an unmanned drone from the United States on Tuesday to monitor and track any suspicious activity.

"I am really concerned by the parallel outbreak of these fires," Tsipras said, with officials raising the possibility they could have been started deliberately by criminals out to ransack abandoned homes.

Monday’s late afternoon fire was one of several that broke out in the country amid a sweltering heat wave.

Video footage showed inhabitants fleeing the fires by car, with several buildings and homes damaged, as the region of Attica -- where Athens is situated -- declared a state of emergency.

"If I hadn't left, I'd have been burned," a 67-year-old resident who gave her name as Maria told AFP.

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

Wildfires are not uncommon in Greece, and a relatively dry winter helped create current tinder-box conditions. It was not immediately clear what ignited the fires.

Reuters witnesses reported seeing a hillside of homes gutted by flames east of Athens. A mayor said he saw at least 100 homes and 200 vehicles burning.

In a fire earlier Monday, Greek authorities urged residents of a coastal region west of Athens to abandon their homes as a wildfire burned ferociously, closing one of Greece’s busiest motorways, halting train links and sending plumes of smoke over the capital.

The main Athens-Corinth motorway, one of two road routes to the Peloponnese peninsula, was closed and train services were canceled.

Emergency services were banking on a drop in the wind but the forecast for the region -- which has experienced temperatures topping 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) -- suggest conditions would remain challenging into Tuesday.

This article has been adapted from its original source.

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