The worst Greek forest fires in a decade have raged through holiday resorts near Greece’s capital, killing at least 26 people and injuring more than 100.
The fire in Mati village, 18 miles east of Athens, was by far the country’s worst since blazes devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing dozens.
Monday’s fire, which sent residents and tourists scrambling into the sea to escape the flames, was one of several that broke out in the country amid a sweltering heat wave, with authorities declaring a state of emergency in the western and eastern parts of Attica.
“Mati doesn’t even exist as a settlement anymore,” one woman told Greece’s Skai TV. “I saw corpses, burned-out cars. I feel lucky to be alive.”
Mati is in the Rafina region which is popular with local tourists, particularly pensioners and children at holiday camps.
A woman walks in front of burnt cars at the village of Mati during a wildfire near Athens
A woman walks in front of burnt cars at the village of Mati during a wildfire near Athens Credit: AFP
“We are dealing with something completely asymmetric,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said after cutting short a visit to Bosnia. “It’s a difficult night for Greece,” he added.
Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, a government spokesman, said more than 20 people had died, the majority of whom were found in their homes or cars in Mati. The death toll rose further after the coast guard counted four bodies recovered at sea, a short distance from the fires.
Flames rise as a wildfire burns in the town of Rafina, near Athens
Flames rise as a wildfire burns in the town of Rafina, near Athens Credit: AFP
More than 104 were injured, he added, including 11 seriously. There were 16 children among the injured, Mr Tzanakopoulos said. One of the youngest victims was thought to be a six-month-old baby who died of smoke inhalation.
Greek authorities were rushing to evacuate residents and tourists stranded on beaches in coastal areas early on Tuesday.
Dozens of people scrambled into the ocean as the blaze raged close to the shore, and they were picked up by passing boats.
Nine coastal patrol boats, two military vessels and “dozens of private boats” assisted by army helicopters were mobilised to help those stuck in Rafina harbour.
“We were unlucky. The wind changed and it came at us with such force that it razed the coastal area in minutes,” said Evangelos Bournous, mayor of the port town of Rafina, a sleepy mainland port that serves Greek holiday islands.
The dock area became a makeshift hospital as paramedics checked survivors when they came off coast guard vessels and private boats. The operation continued through the night.
At daybreak on Tuesday, Ambulance Service deputy director Miltiadis Mylonas said the number of casualties was likely to rise as the more gutted homes and cars were checked.
“It took people by surprise and the events happened very fast. Also, the fires broke out on many fronts, so all these factors made the situation extremely difficult,” he said.
“The task we face now is organizing the identification of victims by members of their families.”
Greece issued an urgent appeal for help to tackle the fires, saying it needed air and land assets from its European Union partners. Cyprus offered to send fire engines and personnel.