Deadly wildfires ravage coastal region near Athens, killing dozens

Blanche Robertson
July 24, 2018

Greek authorities urged residents of a coastal region near 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.

Dozens of people died when forest fires ravaged southern Greece in 2007.

A lot of them were tourists who had tried to find refuge but did not make it. The flames had not reached Athens nor were they threatening any of the famous ancient Greek ruins surrounding the area, officials said Tuesday. Some 715 people were evacuated by boats to Rafina, the government said.

Interior Minister Panos Skourletis said rescue workers were "still searching if there are more missing".

In total at least 74 people died, authorities said.

"It burned our backs so we dove into the water".

So far more than 700 people have been evacuated, mainly from the area of Mati, according to government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos.

"Due to the intensity of the fires and the dangers they pose our country submitted a request through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism for global assistance with air and land assets", a fire brigade spokeswoman said.

Late Monday, an AFP photographer came across a burned out auto with three charred bodies underneath it near the port town Rafina, one of the worst affected areas about 40 kilometres (25 miles) east of Athens.

The head of Greece's Red Cross, Nikos Oikonomopoulos, told Skai television that a Red Cross rescue team reported finding the 26 bodies in a compound northeast of Athens.

Mayor of the Rafina-Pikermi area, Evangelos Bournous claimed he saw at least 100 homes and 200 cars in flames. "I feel lucky to be alive".

The area is popular with Greek tourists, in particular retirees and children who go to holiday camps there.

Authorities initially reported that 24 people were dead around Athens.

Authorities said Cyprus and Spain offered assistance after the request for European Union help was made.

The prime minister, Tsipras, cut short his visit to neighboring Bosnia on Monday and quickly returned to Athens. I guess it's fair to call it a philotimo subscription... because you don't have to do it but it's really the right thing to do if you love the site and the content we publish. The flames this week were fanned by high winds.

'Total catastrophe' wildfires engulf homes, cars in Greece

A woman tries to find her dog following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens, on Tuesday.

There was no official figure on how many people were evacuated overall. "This is an extreme situation".

Cars are blocked at the closed National Road during a wildfire in Kineta, near Athens, on Monday.

The fire was burning into Rafina, with the sky above the nearby port that serves ferries to some of the Cycladic islands, turning black from the smoke. Dozens of people scrambled into the ocean as the blaze raged close to the shore, and they were picked up by passing boats.

The first major fire broke out in a pine forest near the seaside settlement of Kineta, 50 kilometres west of Athens between the capital and Corinth.

Local communities were evacuated and the blaze shut down a almost 20-kilometre section on two highways linking the Peloponnese with central Greece.

Flights have been diverted because of low visibility and the thick smoke from the fires has led to main motorways being shut down.

Greek firefighters battled the flames throughout the night.

Hours after the blaze began, flecks of ash swirled down onto central Athens.

The U.S. Embassy in Athens - which issued alerts about the unsafe fires on Monday afternoon - says American fire experts are visiting Greece to meet with fire officials to discuss how U.S. agencies can help.

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The German Meteorological Service DWD has warned of a significant risk of fires in fields and forests due to drought.

At least three aircraft and a helicopter were battling the flames, along with more than 60 firefighters.

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

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