Greece fires: At least 74 dead, hundreds rescued

Smoke rises over a roadway near a forest fire in Neo Voutsa, a northeast suburb of Athens, Greece, on Monday. A second wildfire broke out later in the Penteli Mountain and officials said the two blazes raged out of control. Photo by Alexandros Vlachos/EPA-EFE

July 24 (UPI) — At least 74 people have died and more than 150 have been injured by Greek wildfires sweeping through a resort town near Athens, authorities said Tuesday.

Officials said at least six major fires, fueled by strong winds and forests in towns near Athens, are burning across Greece.

The death toll is expected to increase as rescue workers check the remains of homes and vehicles destroyed by the fast-moving fires, which started Monday. About 700 people have been rescued at sea.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras declared a state of emergency in the Attica region, which includes Athens.

Red Cross official Nikos Economopoulos said 26 bodies were found tightly huddled about 100 feet from the sea on a beach in Mati, a village 25 miles northeast of Athens.

“They had tried to find an escape route but unfortunately these people and their kids didn’t make it in time. Instinctively, seeing the end nearing, they embraced,” Economopoulos said.

One survivor, Kostas Laganos, told BBC News, “flames were chasing us all the way to the water.

“It burned our backs and we dived into the water.”

The first fire started in the Geraneia mountains near Kineta, prompting three villages to be evacuated.

Dozens of homes were damaged as the fire spread through the town and approached an oil refinery. More homes and cars were destroyed and authorities evacuated children’s summer camps after a second blaze began in Pendeli. A third fire started in Hania.

Yannis Stratikopoulos of the civil protection agency said it is too early to speculate on what caused the fires.

Criticism of rescue efforts mounted Tuesday, as some said officials misjudged the fierceness of the fire in Mati and instead focused on the Kineta blaze.


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