ALEXANDROPOLIS, Greece (AP) — Firefighters on Tuesday found the charred bodies of 18 people believed to be migrants who crossed the Turkish border into an area in northeastern Greece where wildfires have raged for days.
The discovery came near the city of Alexandroupolis while hundreds of firefighters were battling dozens of wildfires across the country amid strong winds. On Monday, two people died and two firefighters were injured in separate fires in northern and central Greece.
With their hot and dry summers, southern European countries are particularly vulnerable to wildfires. Another major fire has raged across Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands for a week, although no injuries or damage to homes were reported.
European Union officials blamed it Climate change To increase the frequency and intensity Forest fires in EuropeNoting that 2022 was the second worst year in terms of forest fire damage recorded after 2017.
And in Greece, the police activated the state of emergency in the country Disaster Victim Identification Team Ioannis Artopios, a spokesman for the fire department, said the 18 bodies found near a hut in Avantas have been identified.
“Since there are no reports of a missing person or missing residents from the surrounding areas, the possibility that these are people who entered the country illegally is being investigated,” Artopius said.
Alexandroupolis lies near the border with Turkey, along a route often taken by people fleeing poverty and conflict in the Middle East, Asia and Africa and seeking entry to the European Union.
In a statement, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou expressed her sorrow over the deaths of the victims.
“We must urgently take effective initiatives to ensure that this grim reality does not become the new normal,” she added, referring to the recurring forest fires.
Avantas, like many nearby villages and settlements, was under evacuation orders, with alerts sent in Greek and English to all mobile phones in the area.
The fire service said it was investigating the cause of the fires in coordination with police and intelligence. In recent days, many people have been arrested or fined for setting fires by mistake.
But the discovery of the 18 bodies sparked a backlash from some, who accused the migrants of starting the fires.
Late Monday, police said they had arrested three men in Alexandroupolis suspected of kidnapping and illegally detaining 13 migrants. A statement from the National Police headquarters said one of the suspects was a man who appeared in a video posted on social media locking a group of migrants in a trailer and accusing them of “intending to burn us”.
Government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis issued a statement condemning the vigilante actions.
During the night, a massive wall of fire stretched through the forest towards Alexandroupolis, prompting the authorities to evacuate eight other villages and the city’s hospital as flames reddened the sky.
Speaking to Greece’s Skai TV, Deputy Health Minister Dimitris Vartzopoulos said smoke and ash in the air around the hospital were the main reasons behind the decision to evacuate the facility.
The coast guard said patrol boats and private vessels evacuated an additional 40 people by sea from beaches near Alexandroupolis.
In the northeastern border region of Evros, a forest in a protected national park was on fire, and satellite images showed smoke blanketing most of northern and western Greece.
New fires broke out in several parts of the country on Tuesday, including in forests northwest of Athens and an industrial area on the western outskirts of the capital.
Small explosions reverberated in the industrial area of Aspropyrgos as fire reached warehouses and factories. The authorities closed a highway and ordered the evacuation of nearby settlements.
With firefighting forces stretched to the limit, Greece appealed to the European Union’s Civil Protection Mechanism for help.
Five water-dropping planes from Croatia, Germany and Sweden and a helicopter, 58 firefighters and nine water tankers from the Czech Republic flew to Greece on Tuesday, while 56 Romanian firefighters and two planes arrived from Cyprus on Monday. French firefighters helped put out a fire that broke out on the island of Evia on Monday.
“We are, in fact, mobilizing almost a third of the aircraft in the EU’s rescue fleet,” said Balazs Ojvari, a spokesman for the European Union.
The fire danger level in many areas, including the wider Athens region, was listed as “extreme” for a second day on Tuesday. The authorities prevented public access to the mountains and forests in those areas until at least Wednesday morning and ordered military patrols.
In Spain, firefighters battled to control a wildfire that had been burning for a week in Tenerife, a popular tourist destination in the Canary Islands. It is estimated that the fire, which has consumed 150 square kilometers (59 square miles), has already burned a third of Tenerife’s forests.
More than 12,000 people have been evacuated over the past week. On Tuesday, authorities said 1,500 people had been able to return home. Authorities described the fire as the worst in decades in the Atlantic archipelago.
It was large parts of Spain Forest fire alert Where temperatures exceeded 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit). And while temperatures are often very high in southern Spain, the country’s meteorological agency issued an alert for the northern Basque region, where temperatures are expected to reach 42 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit) on Wednesday.
Greece’s deadliest forest fire killed 104 people in 2018, in a seaside resort near Athens that residents had not been warned to evacuate. Since then, the authorities have erred on the side of caution, issuing hasty mass evacuation orders whenever populated areas are threatened.
Last month, a forest fire on the island of Rhodes led to the evacuation of residents About 20 thousand tourists. after few days , Two Air Force pilots were killed When their water drop aircraft crashed while diving low to tackle a fire in Evia.
A week-long wildfire in the Greek resort of Rhodes tore through defenses on Monday, prompting more evacuations, as strong winds and successive heat waves that left bushes and forests dry fueled three large fires raging elsewhere in Greece. (July 24)
In Italy, authorities evacuated 700 people from homes and camps on the Tuscan island of Elba after a fire broke out late Monday, while in Turkey authorities evacuated nine villages in the northwestern province of Canakkale. Turkish media also said that the authorities have reduced sea traffic in the Dardanelles Strait in case firefighting ships need to be deployed to the area.
According to the Italian Society of Environmental Geology, more than 1,100 fires in Europe this summer devoured 2,842 square kilometers (about 1,100 square miles), far higher than the average of 724 annual fires recorded from 2006 to 2022. forests capable of absorbing 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.
“When we add the fires in Canada, the United States, Africa, Asia and Australia to the fires in Europe, the situation seems to get worse every year,” said Antonello Fiore, President of SIGEA.
Picatoros reported from Athens, Greece. Associated Press writers Nicholas Pavetis in Athens, Joe Wilson in Barcelona, Colin Barry in Milan, Suzanne Fraser in Ankara, and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this.
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