Saturday, 20 July, 2019

Greece: Major forest fires rage near Athens as homeowners flee

GettyImages-1004376462 PICS Death Toll Rises as Wildfires Ravage Greek Coast VALERIE GACHE AFP Getty 24 Jul 2018
Deanna Wagner | 24 July, 2018, 10:17

Buildings burn in the town of Mati. Wildfires are not new to Greece but several blazes erupted especially quickly.

The death toll from twin wildfires that raged through Greek seaside areas looked set to increase to around 50 Tuesday after rescue crews reported finding the bodies of more than 20 people huddled closely together near a beach northeast of the capital, Athens. Reinforcements were sent from across Greece.

Authorities deployed more than 200 firefighters and 60 engines from across Greece to deal with the massive blaze at Kineta, a small resort town about 54 km (35 miles) west of Athens on a route tens of thousands of drivers use daily to reach the Peloponnese.

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

At least four of the fires had not been brought under control, MSB said, and weather conditions were unfavourable.

Earlier on Monday Toskas suggested arsonists caused the fires.

Wildfires are not unusual during Greece's hot, dry summers.

But Monday's blazes spread so quickly, they seemed to catch everyone off guard.

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

A firefighting helicopter flies over a wildfire raging in the town of Rafina near Athens
A firefighting helicopter flies over a wildfire raging in the town of Rafina near Athens

By early evening, a huge plume of smoke was visible on Acropolis hill.

Hundreds of firefighters are battling the blazes and people have left their homes near the capital, Athens.

"People can not tolerate so much smoke for so many hours", he said on state TV. "Also, the fires broke out on many fronts, so all these factors made the situation extremely hard", he said.

Greek TV stations broke into live coverage, showing panoramas of burning homes and pine trees and close-ups of distraught homeowners in masks. Some residents used garden hoses to try to save their properties while others escaped in cars and on mopeds. With a cloud of black and orange smoke having descended across the city, transport services have been disrupted, the main Athens to Corinth motorway shut and train services cancelled.

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.

At least three villages have been evacuated.

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In the north of the country, more than 300 firefighters, five aircraft and two helicopters were mobilised to tackle the "extremely difficult" situation, Athens fire chief Achille Tzouvaras said. On Sunday, there was also a fire on Skopelos, the island where the 2008 hit film Mamma Mia was shot.

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