25 August 2023

Rescuers in Greece find body, raising wildfires death toll to 21

25 August 2023

Authorities battling a wildfire in north-eastern Greece that was described as the European Union’s largest single recorded blaze have recovered another body, raising the death toll to 21.

Firefighters recovered the body of a man from the Dadia forest national park, which lies near the border with Turkey, on Thursday.

Eighteen bodies were discovered on Tuesday near a shack in an area near the north-eastern city of Alexandroupolis, after the body of one more person had been found on Monday in a forest.

In central Greece, a man was found dead on Monday in a sheep pen after reportedly trying to save his livestock from an advancing wildfire.

With no reports of missing people in north-eastern Greece, authorities suspect the bodies found in the area are those of migrants who may have crossed into the country recently from the nearby border with Turkey.

Greece’s Disaster Victim Identification Team has been activated to identify the remains, and a telephone hotline has been set up, operating in English, Arabic, Pashto, Turkish and Urdu for potential relatives of the victims to call.

Across Greece, hundreds of firefighters were making headway on Friday in tackling multiple wildfires burning for days, including the major blaze near Alexandroupolis and one on the fringes of Athens.

With gale force winds abating, the situation appears to have improved, although neither of the two main wildfires had yet been brought under control, the fire department said.

The Alexandroupolis region fire was burning for a seventh day after combining with smaller fires to create a massive blaze that consumed homes and vast tracts of forest.

According to the European Union’s Copernicus Emergency Management Service, the Alexandroupolis fire had scorched more than 772 square kilometres (nearly 300 square miles) by Thursday.

Copernicus is the EU space programme’s Earth observation component and uses satellite imagery to provide mapping data.

European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic described it as the largest wildfire on record in the European Union.

Authorities sre concentrating on two active fronts, the fire department said, with 295 firefighters backed up with 85 vehicles, four planes and two helicopters.

To the south in Athens, a major fire that scorched homes on the fringes of the Greek capital and entered the national park on Mount Parnitha had one main active front, the fire department said.

The blaze was being tackled by 260 firefighters backed up by 77 vehicles, 8 planes and five helicopters.

Authorities have been faced with dozens of new fires each day, with the fire department saying its forces tackled 104 blazes in the 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday evening.

Officials have said arson has been to blame for some fires. On Thursday, police arrested a 45-year-old man on suspicion of arson for allegedly setting at least three fires in the Avlona area north of Athens.

A search of his home revealed kindling, a fire torch gun and pine needles, police said.

The fire department said on Friday another man was arrested on the island of Evia for deliberate arson, while on Thursday a man was arrested for negligent arson after allegedly throwing a burning cigarette into a field of dried grass and olive trees, sparking a fire.

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