Flames devour forests and homes as Greece wildfires leave 20 dead

The flames have left 20 dead over the last three days as the summer weather conditions have combined to wreak havoc in southern Europe

Advancing flames devoured forests and homes as dozens of wildfires raged across Greece on Wednesday, leaving 20 people dead over the last three days.

Greece’s largest forest fire was burning out of control for the fifth day near the city of Alexandroupolis in the northeast, while another major blaze on the northwestern fringe of Athens was torching homes and heading into Parnitha national park, one of the last green areas near the Greek capital.

Major blazes also burned in northwestern Turkey near the Greek border and on Tenerife in Spain's Canary Islands.

Greece’s largest forest fire was burning out of control for the fifth day. Credit: AP

Firefighters in Greece tackled 355 forest fires over five days from Friday to Tuesday, Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias said on Wednesday, including 209 over the last 48 hours alone.

Gale-force winds combined with hot, dry summer conditions to whip up the flames, making the blazes exceptionally difficult to bring under control, authorities said.

This summer's weather conditions have been "the worst since meteorological data have been gathered and the fire risk map has been issued in the country," Mr Kikilias said at a news conference.

Extensive parts of the country have been placed at Level 5, the highest for fire risk, seven times so far this year, which Mr Kikilias added was double the number in 2021, four times that of 2019 and seven times more than in 2012.

Authorities issued dozens of evacuation orders for villages and seaside areas this week. Credit: AP

Authorities issued dozens of evacuation orders for villages and seaside areas this week, with the coast guard and private boats plucking some people from beaches and coasts.

The main hospital in Alexandroupolis was evacuated overnight on Monday, with nearly 70 of its more than 200 patients transferred to a ferry docked in the city's port turned into a temporary floating hospital.

Although winds were gradually abating in many parts of the country, the risk of new fires remained high.

"Conditions remain difficult and in many cases extreme," fire department spokesperson Ioannis Artopios said.

20 people have been left dead by the flames in Greece. Credit: AP

Firefighters searching recently burnt areas in the Alexandroupolis region, which is near the border with Turkey, discovered the bodies of 18 people believed to be migrants in a forest Tuesday.

Two other people were found dead on Monday, one in northern Greece and another in a separate fire in central Greece.

With firefighting forces stretched to the limit, Greece has called for assistance from other European countries.

Germany, Sweden, Croatia and Cyprus sent water-dropping aircraft, Romania and the Czech Republic sent dozens of firefighters and water tanks, and French firefighters were helping tackle a persistent wildfire on the island of Evia.

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