Published: Wed, July 25, 2018
Global Media | By Derrick Guzman

Irish Ambassador confirms death of Irishman in Greek wildfires

Irish Ambassador confirms death of Irishman in Greek wildfires

A flotilla of boats, including some from the coast guard, evacuated more than 700 people by sea from threatened beaches overnight, authorities said.

Flames rise as a wildfire burns in the town of Rafina, near Athens, July 23, 2018.

On Tuesday, the bodies of 26 adults and children who apparently died embracing each other were found on a cliff top. As 50 miles per hour winds pushed the fires, residents and tourists took refuge on ocean beaches.

Mati is in the Rafina region which is a popular retreat with local holidaymakers, particularly pensioners and children at holiday camps.

"Residents and visitors in the area did not escape in time even though they were a few meters from the sea or in their homes", fire brigade spokeswoman Stavroula Maliri said.

One survivor, Nikos Stavrinidis, told ABC News that despite the air-conditioning in his auto, he could still feel the heat from outside as he travelled on a highway.

"They jumped into a passing auto but the flames were raging on both sides".

Zoe Holohan
Zoe Holohan is in hospital after suffering burns to her head and hands

Several forest fires, fuelled by strong winds, are raging around Greece's capital, Athens, damaging homes, disrupting major transport links and sending people fleeing for their lives.

Relatives of those reported missing have been posting photographs on a website in the hope of tracing their whereabouts.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has declared three days of national mourning.

What is happening here in eastern Attica is a black hell.

"People can not tolerate so much smoke for so many hours", he said on state TV.

"I'm grateful to all of them", he said.

"Everyone should keep their temper and take care to protect the most precious good that is human life", he said. "I don't know if they made it out", he said. After that, police blocked access to everyone except rescuers. It broke out in Mati, east of Athens, late Monday afternoon and was still burning in some areas on Tuesday.

They swam further out to escape the smoke, but as they did so, they began to be carried away by the wind and the current. Other bodies were found inside houses and burnt-out cars.

Nikos Economopoulos, head of Greece's Red Cross told Sky, "They had tried to find an escape route but unfortunately these people and their kids didn't make it in time".

The blaze struck like a flamethrower, he said, causing smoke inhalation and skin burns.

Survivor Kostas Laganos said: "It burned our backs and we dived into the water".

"It reminded me of the eruption (of Vesuvius in 79 AD) at Pompeii, exactly that, and I said my God, we must run to save ourselves, and nothing else. Then the fire was all around us".

Charred bodies lay just 15m (50ft) from the sea, photographer Pantelis Saitas told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency.

At least 104 people were injured, 11 seriously, with 16 children among the casualties.

How are the authorities responding?

The Greek government invoked European Union civil protection agreements to seek help from its EU peers, with the country tinder box dry and at risk of more fires.

In 2007, 84 were killed by forest fires in Greece triggered by high temperatures and arson.

"Fifteen fires were started simultaneously on three different fronts in Athens", government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said, according to CBS News partner network BBC News.

The London Telegraph reported authorities were requesting help from the USA, asking for drones that could observe and "detect" any suspicious activity.

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