Greece: Eighteen people found dead in area struck by major wildfire

Flames burn a forest during a wildfire in Avantas village, near Alexandroupolis town. Credit: AP

Greek firefighters have found the bodies of 18 people in an area of north-eastern Greece ravaged by a major wildfire that has been burning for days.

Police have deployed a specialised identification team to identify the bodies that were found near a shack in the Avanta area in the north-eastern Alexandroupolis region, Ioannis Artopios, a spokesman for the fire department, said in a televised statement.

No reports of missing people have been filed in the area, leading authorities to examine the possibility the casualties were migrants who had entered the country from the nearby border with Turkey, Artopios said.

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou voiced sadness at the deaths.

“We mourn their loss ... (and) the destruction of nature, (and) we are saddened by our inability to avert it,” she said in a statement.

“We must urgently take effective initiatives to ensure that this bleak reality does not become the new normality.”

Elsewhere, hundreds of firefighters have struggled to control major wildfires burning out of control for days in north-eastern Greece and on Tenerife, with strong winds fanning the flames and prompting evacuations of villages and a city hospital in Greece.

Firefighters try to extinguish the flames in a forest in Avantas village, near Alexandroupolis town. Credit: AP

Hot, dry and windy conditions have seen dozens of wildfires break out across Greece, with the most severe entering its fourth day and encroaching on the north-eastern port city of Alexandroupolis.

About 65 of the more than 100 patients in the hospital were transported to a ferry boat docked in the city’s port, while others were taken to other hospitals in northern Greece.

The fire risk level for several regions, including the wider Athens area, was listed as “extreme” for the second day on Tuesday.

Authorities had banned public access to mountains and forests in those regions until at least Wednesday morning and ordered military patrols.

Deputy Health Minister Dimitris Vartzopoulos, speaking on Greece's Skai television, said smoke and ash in the air around the Alexandrouplolis hospital was the main reason behind the decision to evacuate the facility.

“We evacuated within four hours,” Vartzopoulos said.

On Monday, two people died and two firefighters were injured in separate fires in northern and central Greece.

Greece suffers destructive wildfires every summer.

Its deadliest wildfire killed 104 people in 2018, at a seaside resort near Athens that residents had not been warned to evacuate.

Last month, a wildfire on the resort island of Rhodes forced the evacuation of some 20,000 tourists.

Days later, two air force pilots were killed when their water-dropping plane crashed while diving low to tackle a blaze on Evia. Another three wildfire-related deaths have been recorded this summer.

With their hot, dry summers, southern European countries are particularly prone to wildfires.

European Union officials have blamed climate change for the increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires in Europe, noting that 2022 was the second-worst year for wildfire damage on record after 2017.

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