ALEXANDROUPOLIS, Greece (AP) — Firefighters on Tuesday found the charred bodies of 18 people believed to be migrants after wildfires raged for days across a part of northeastern Greece across the Turkish border.
The discovery was made near the city of Alexandroupolis as hundreds of firefighters battled 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.
Southern European countries are particularly prone to wildfires during hot, dry summers. Another large fire has been burning in Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands for a week, although no injuries or damage to homes have been reported.
European Union officials have accused Climate change For increasing frequency and intensity Wildfires in Europe2022 is the second worst year for wildfire damage on record after 2017.
In Greece, the police enforced the country Disaster Victim Identification Committee Fire department spokesman Ioannis Artopios said 18 bodies were identified near a cottage in the Avantas area.
“Since there are no reports of disappearances of the missing person or people living in the surrounding areas, it is being investigated whether they entered the country illegally,” Artobios said.
Alexandroupolis is close to the border with Turkey and is a frequent route for people seeking to escape poverty and conflict in the Middle East, Asia and Africa to enter the European Union.
Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou expressed grief over the death in a statement.
“We urgently need to take effective initiatives to ensure that this bleak reality does not become the new normal,” he said, referring to repeated wildfires.
Avantas was under evacuation orders, as were many nearby villages and settlements, with push alerts in Greek and English sent to all mobile phones in the region.
The fire service said it was investigating the cause of the fire in coordination with police and the Secret Service. In recent days, many people have been arrested or fined for accidentally starting fires.
But the discovery of 18 bodies sparked a backlash with some accusing migrants of arson.
Late on Monday, police said they detained three men in Alexandroupolis suspected of kidnapping and illegally holding 13 migrants. One of the suspects was seen in a video posted on social media cramming a group of migrants into a trailer and accusing them of “trying to burn us down”.
Government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis issued a statement condemning the vigilante’s actions.
Overnight, a huge blaze raced through forests toward Alexandroupolis, prompting authorities to evacuate eight villages and the city’s hospital, as the flames turned the sky red.
Speaking on Greece’s Sky television, Deputy Health Minister Dimitris Vartsopoulos said smoke and ash in the air around the hospital were the main reason behind the decision to evacuate the facility.
Patrol boats and private vessels pulled an additional 40 people out to sea from beaches near Alexandroupolis, the coast guard said.
A forest fire was burning in a protected national park in the northeastern Evros border region, with satellite images showing smoke covering much of northern and western Greece.
New fires broke out in several parts of the country on Tuesday, including forested areas northwest of Athens and an industrial area on the western fringes of the capital.
Small explosions echoed from the industrial area of Asprophyrcos as flames reached warehouses and factories. Authorities closed a highway and ordered the evacuation of nearby residences.
As firefighting forces stretched across the border, Greece appealed for help from the EU’s civil protection mechanism.
Five water landing planes from Croatia, Germany and Sweden, and one helicopter, 58 firefighters and nine water tankers from the Czech Republic flew to Greece on Tuesday, while 56 Romanian firefighters and two planes from Cyprus arrived on Monday. French firefighters helped tackle a fire on the island of Evia on Monday.
“We are mobilizing almost a third of the aircraft we have in the RescEU fleet,” said EU spokesman Balazs Ujvari.
The fire danger level for many areas, including the wider Athens area, was listed as “extreme” for a second day on Tuesday. Authorities barred public access to mountains and forests in the areas until at least Wednesday morning and ordered military patrols.
In Spain, firefighters battled wildfires that have been burning for a week in Tenerife, a popular tourist destination in the Canary Islands. The fire, which has burned an area of 150 square kilometers (59 square miles), is estimated to have already consumed a third of Tenerife’s forested area.
Over 12,000 people have been evacuated in the past week. Officials said on Tuesday that 1,500 people had been able to return to their homes. Officials have described the fires as the worst in the Atlantic archipelago in decades.
There were large parts of Spain A wildfire warning is in place As the temperature exceeds 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit). While the south of Spain often experiences very high temperatures, the country’s meteorological agency issued a warning for the northern Basque Country, where temperatures were forecast to reach 42 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit) on Wednesday.
In 2018, Greece’s worst wildfire killed 104 people at a seaside resort near Athens when residents were not warned to evacuate. Officials have erred on the side of caution by issuing hasty mass evacuation orders whenever populated areas are threatened.
Last month, the island of Rhodes was forced to evacuate due to wildfires About 20,000 tourists. days later, Two air force pilots were killed Their parachute plane crashed while diving low to fight a fire on Evia.
A week-old wildfire on the Greek resort island of Rhodes on Monday forced more evacuations due to strong winds and persistent heat waves that dried up scrubland and forests. (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 reported that authorities have reduced sea traffic in the Dardanelles Strait area in case firefighting ships are to be sent.
According to the Italian Society of Environmental Geography, more than 1,100 fires have burned 2,842 square kilometers (about 1,100 square miles) in Europe this summer, exceeding the average of 724 fires per year recorded from 2006-2022. Fires have cleared forested areas capable of absorbing 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide a year.
“When you add the fires in Canada, America, Africa, Asia and Australia to those in Europe, the situation seems to be getting worse every year,” said SIGEA President Antonello Fiore.
Becatoros reports from Athens, Greece. Associated Press writers Nicholas Bafidis in Athens, Joe Wilson in Barcelona, Colin Barry in Milan, Suzanne Fraser in Ankara and Raf Cassert in Brussels contributed.
Follow AP’s climate coverage https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment
Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative Here. AP is solely responsible for all content.