Eighteen People Found Dead as Wildfires Rage in Greece

Eighteen people were found dead in the Dadia forest in northeast Greece as firefighters struggle to contain wildfires blazing across the country.

(Bloomberg) — Eighteen people were found dead in the Dadia forest in northeast Greece as firefighters struggle to contain wildfires blazing across the country. 

As no residents have been reported missing from nearby villages, authorities believe that the victims were migrants. Officials have evacuated the hospital in the nearby city of Alexandroupolis as well as eight villages in the surrounding area until the fire — one of at least 10 currently spreading in Greece — can be contained.

The fires are the latest instance of extreme weather in a summer that has been full of them. Record-breaking temperatures, violent storms, flooding and wildfires have stunned Europe and North America in recent months, and Greece alone has experienced fires in recent days that have burned over 99,000 acres. Global warming has increased the intensity of such events — July was the world’s hottest-ever month on record.

In Alexandropoulis, darkness fell early on Tuesday as the fire, which has been burning since Saturday morning, filled the air with smoke and dust. 

Authorities rushed to transfer about 160 patients from the hospital to neighboring facilities as the blaze approached the facility. Some were taken to the port, where a ferry transported them to a hospital in the city of Kavala. The coast guard has also moved about 40 people to the Alexandropoulis port as part of rescue efforts. During an evacuation last night, one woman gave birth to a girl.

Read more:  Greece Fights Wild Fires as Heat Blankets Southern Europe

Another fire also broke out on Tuesday in Aspropyrgos, a town northwest of Athens, prompting authorities to evacuate parts of the area and to stop traffic on one of the main highways into the capital. There have been 473 fires in the region since early May, a fire service spokesperson said to Open TV, with most triggered by illegal fireworks.

In Fili, a small municipality in the foothills of the Parnitha mountains about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) northwest of Athens, another fire broke out around noon on Tuesday. As changing wind patterns pushed flames toward residential areas, locals fought the fire with garden hoses and hurried to protect horses and sheep. When the fire began closing in on a local monastery, a helicopters managed to rescue those stranded.  

The Hellenic Electricity Distribution Network Operator, known by its Greek initials as Deddie, says that the island of Samothraki in the north Aegean Sea has been without power since 4 p.m. on Tuesday when the fires in Alexandropoulis damaged two cables on the mainland that help transmit electricity to the island. Deddie is collaborating with the Coast Guard and the Civil Protection Ministry to restore the island’s power supply.

Spokespeople for the government and opposition Syriza party traded barbs on Tuesday as the emergency unfolded. 

In an interview with state-run ERT TV, government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis accused the opposition of trying to instrumentalize the fires for political purposes. Fire is “a phenomenon that happens all over the world,” he said. 

Syriza spokesperson Stergios Kalpakis responded in kind. “For the fourth day the country is experiencing a fiery hell, with the loss of our fellow human beings and an incalculable environmental disaster,” he wrote, adding that the government was attacking his party instead of dealing with the fires “in a timely and efficient manner.”

In a statement later that afternoon, Migration Minister Dimitris Kairidis expressed the government’s sorrow at the deaths of the migrants in the Dadia forest. “Despite the constant and persistent efforts of the Greek authorities to protect the borders and human life, this tragedy confirms, once again, the dangers of irregular migration,” he added. 

The fires in Alexandroupolis and in the Attica region, which include Athens, Fili and Aspropyrgos, are the most difficult at the moment, a fire service spokesman said on state-run ertnews web TV on Tuesday. In some areas, winds have been blowing at speeds of up to 74 km (46 miles) per hour, and in all instances, homes, cars and businesses have been destroyed. 

(Updates with details and context throughout)

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