A firestorm has swept through seaside resort towns near the Greek capital, causing massive casualties. The death toll from the fires has climbed to at least 80 people. Many homes in the resort villages of Mati, Rafina, Neos Voutzas and Kokkino Limanaki have been reduced to ash and rubble. The prime minister has declared three days of national mourning for the victims.
Survivors described people fleeing to beaches and swimming out to sea to escape thick smoke and flaming pine cones. Reports claim that 26 victims were found clasped in a last embrace in a burned villa near a beach in Mati. Experts have said that identifying the bodies will be difficult because so many corpses are badly charred. More than 1,000 homes and 300 vehicles were either destroyed or damaged by the fires.
In addition to the 80 deaths, nearly 200 people have been reported injured. There was no official indication as to how many people might be missing. The Greek Fire Brigade said the service had received dozens of calls reporting missing persons. Some are making appeals for information on their loved ones on social media and Greek television stations. Rescue crews are still searching for victims.
The wildfires were exacerbated by the hot, dry summer conditions gripping the country. Winds of up to 60 miles per hour fanned the flames, helping the fires spread quickly. One of the largest wildfires is raging 20 miles northeast of Athens near Rafina. More than 280 firefighters were in the area fighting the fire. Another blaze erupted 30 miles west of the capital in Kineta, near Agioi Theodori. Roughly 200 firefighters, backed up by a water-dropping helicopter, were tackling that fire.
There have been suggestions that the blazes were started deliberately. The fires seem suspicious as several appeared to erupt in different areas outside the capital of Athens at once. Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said, “Fifteen fires were started simultaneously on three different fronts in Athens.”
The Greek anti-terrorist service is investigating the matter, according to a security source. The Greek government has reportedly requested drones from the United States to detect suspicious activity in the areas of the fires.