Scores dead as Greece wildfires blaze through villages

A pair of wildfires burning through coastal villages around Athens have killed at least 79 people, according to Greek authorities.

Fanned by gale-force winds, the flames have reportedly blocked multiple evacuation routes and forced residents to flee into the Aegean Sea aboard yachts, fishing dinghies, and makeshift rafts.

On Monday night, firefighters fought against the flames, which were fuelled by winds of up to 100km per hour.

Twenty-six of the dead were found huddled together near a beach in the resort town of Rafina, as Coast Guard vessels, working in tandem with a fleet of private boats, searched for hundreds of survivors stranded on the country’s waterfronts.

Rafina’s Mayor Evangalos Bournos told the BBC that the town had “disappeared” after more than 1 000 buildings were destroyed and damaged.

Prime minister Alexis Tsipras has declared three days of mourning.

Historically, forest fires are not uncommon in Greece between June and August. A severe drought in the Peloponnese region ignited a series of infernos that killed 84 people in 2007.

However, this past fire season has proved to be the deadliest to hit the country in more than a decade.

Appeals for international aid drew swift responses from European leaders. Croatia, Italy, and Spain collectively offered to dispatch six Canadair “water-dropping” planes, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both pledged to assist in disaster relief efforts should local leaders call upon them.

Forecasts of rain in portions of southern Greece on Thursday and Friday have been a source of hope among emergency workers. However, government officials have repeatedly stated the death toll will likely increase as search parties make their way through charred homes and villages. 

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Peter Rothpletz
Peter Rothpletz is an American writer and contributor to the Mail & Guardian. An alumnus of Yale University's Journalism Initiative, he primarily reports on international affairs, civil conflict, and radical extremism.

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