Death toll in Greece forest fires reaches 50

World 
Death toll in Greece forest fires reaches 50

Athens (Agencies): The death toll from a series of fires sweeping Greece climbed to 50 on Tuesday with a Red Cross official reporting the discovery of 26 more bodies at a seaside resort.


The authorities had previously announced 24 deaths and more than 150 injuries from wildfires around the Athens region, before finding 26 dead at a villa in the coastal town of Mati.

The majority of the casualties were found in their homes or cars in the seaside resort of Mati, 40 kilometres (25 miles) northeast of the capital, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said.

Port authorities later told a foreign news agency they had found four bodies in the sea, including three woman and a child who had apparently tried to escape the flames.

By dawn on Tuesday, the fires were still burning around the capital, while others broke out elsewhere during the night.

Authorities were trying to evacuate inhabitants, Tzanakopoulos said early Tuesday, while searches for further victims continued.

"Fifteen fires had started simultaneously on three different fronts in Athens", he said, prompting Greece to request drones from the United States, "to observe and detect any suspicious activity".

Nine coastal patrol boats, two military vessels and "dozens of private boats" assisted by army helicopters were mobilised to help those stuck in the harbour in Rafina, one of the worst affected areas close to Mati.

Evacuees were transferred to hotels and military camps, while worried relatives flocked to the area.

Police in the town said they found two Danish tourists out of a group of 10 in a boat at sea off the town and were trying to locate the others.

Civil protection chief Yannis Kapakis said he had told Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who cut short a visit to Bosnia to return home, that winds up to 100 kilometres an hour were creating "an extreme situation".

Forecasters said conditions would remain challenging on Tuesday, although showers and falling temperatures were expected in Athens.

In the north, more than 300 firefighters, five aircraft and two helicopters were mobilised to tackle the "extremely difficult" situation, Athens fire chief Achille Tzouvaras said.

The Greek government invoked European Union civil protection agreements to seek help from EU peers, with the country tinder box dry and at risk of more fires. Wildfires have caused widespread damage in Sweden and other northern European nations.

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

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.

Tsipras said "all emergency forces have been mobilised" to battle fires along at least three fronts.

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.

Smoke from the blazes blotted out the sun over the famed Parthenon temple in Athens, where some ministries closed Monday afternoon due to the searing heat.

"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.

Fires are a common problem in Greece during the summer and can be major killers.

Fires in 2007 on the southern island of Evia claimed 77 lives.