Greek fires leave 20 dead, including 18 suspected migrants


German Press Agency

ATHENS, Greece – Greek wildfires in the past days have obscured the sun with a thick smoke, as strong winds fueled the massive forest fires that have so far resulted in 20 deaths, including 18 suspected migrants whose bodies were discovered Tuesday.

Rescuers found 18 burned bodies in a hut in the Dadia national park, where a large forest fire is burning.

“Since no one was declared missing, we are working on the assumption that they are illegal migrants,” fire service spokesman Giannis Artopoios told the public broadcaster ERT.

The body of another suspected migrant was found earlier in the woods Tuesday. He presumably died of smoke inhalation. A shepherd died Monday while trying to bring his animals to safety.

The migrants were reportedly found in a hut near the village of Avas. An investigation has been launched.

In the forest area of Dadia, migrants who illegally entered Greece from Turkey via the border river Evros hide again and again. From there, they hope to continue on to Central Europe. How many migrants still in the region who could be at risk is unknown.

Fires have been raging in the northeastern area of Greece for days, as well as in other parts of the country.

Migrants who have secretly entered Greece from Turkey via the Evros border river are often found hiding in the Dadia forest area.

Given the deaths and countless fires, Greeks all over the country are worried. At least five fires are very large and not under control.

In the affected areas, firefighters and residents fought to exhaustion. In the hard-hit port city of Alexandroupolis they have been battling blazes for four days now.

“The extent of the fires in Alexandroupolis exceeds any fire-fighting mechanism,” a fire brigade spokesman told the Skai radio station. In other words, the goal now is to first save lives and then bring the fires under control.

“Human lives are the top priority,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told journalists Tuesday. Only then would property and the environment be considered. He pointed out that the rapid evacuations were successful, as countless villages near all major fires had been evacuated in the past few days as a precaution.

In addition to the Dadia fires, TV images showed desperate people fighting orange-lit walls of fire at night on the island of Euboea and crying residents whose houses had burned down.

In Alexandroupolis, around 175 people had to be brought to safety from the university hospital – some of them on a ferry that later left for Kavala, the rest to hospitals in the surrounding area.

Deep black clouds of smoke also enveloped the capital Athens – where there was a fire Tuesday in the municipality of Aspropyrgos, about 9 miles away. This Athens suburb has hardly any vegetation, but large rubbish dumps, industrial halls and mountains of car tyres that caught fire.

Aspropyrgos Mayor Nikos Meletiou lashed out on ERT, the state broadcaster, that his city has served as a rubbish dump for the capital and that the situation was also extremely difficult due to the poverty in Aspropyrgos.

Authorities fear that more fires might break out. The Greek Civil Defence force warned of a very high to extremely high danger of forest fires for nearly the entire country.

Later, a fire also broke out further north of Athens, and again evacuations were ordered. Many local people do not want to leave but instead want to help extinguish the fire.

“We are delivering a pan-Hellenic fight against the flames here,” a fire brigade spokesman told the Skai radio station.

On social media, people are discussing the likelihood of so many fires breaking out in the current strong winds of all things.

There are many indications of arson. For one, the fire brigade reported that 12 fires broke out in the Dadia forest within two hours Monday, indicating man-made fires. But the perpetrators are almost impossible to catch in the often inaccessible forest areas.

Climate change is also repeatedly cited as a cause for the high intensity of the fires – by the Greek government as well as by researchers. In a world that is heating up, there are more periods of drought, the Kiel climate researcher Mojib Latif told the German broadcaster Deutschlandfunk radio Tuesday.

This leads to more fires, which increasingly get out of control – more so than in the past.

Meanwhile, international aid for Greece was once again on its way.

The European Union announed that it was sending five additional planes, a helicopter and more firefighters in addition to two fire-fighting planes from Cyprus and firefighters from Romania, Janez Lenarčič, the EU commissioner responsible for crisis management announced.

The help comes from Germany, Croatia, Sweden and the Czech Republic.

In Germany, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser expressed her support and sympathies for the Greek fires. Her ministry said two aircraft from Lower Saxony’s firefighting squadron took off Tuesday morning and were expected to arrive in Greece around 6 p.m. local time.

“I am very grateful to the crews of the fire-fighting aircraft for this,” Faeser said. “Our help shows: We Europeans stand closely by each other during severe natural disasters.”

The outlook on Tuesday for continued fires is not good, as authorities fear that more fires might break out.

The Greek Civil Defence force warned of a very high to extremely high danger of forest fires for nearly the entire country.

The main problems are the strong winds and, in some places, squalls that drive the flames ahead of them and expand the fire fronts. They make extinguishing work almost impossible and also very dangerous for the fire-fighting helicopters and aircraft.

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