Raging fires encircle Athens

At least 74 people die in devastating fires to the north of Athens; many throw themselves into the sea to escape

At least 74 people have died, hundreds injured and it is unknown how many are missing in the fires that began on Monday near the city of Athens. Greek firefighters said yesterday that there are still dozens of buildings affected by the fires that have not yet been accessed.

The most devastating fires in Greece for more than a decade began with several outbreaks in a forested area 50 kilometers southwest of Athens that forced the evacuation of several towns but luckily, without fatalities. Another minor fire 30 kilometers north-east of the Greek capital started at night, and in the worst catastrophe since 2007, 64 people were killed in the Peloponnese peninsula.

Firefighters attempted to halt the advance but could do little against winds of force 9 on the Beaufort scale with gusts reaching force 11. The flames trapped many in their homes before they could flee and many of those who did were caught in traffic jams on the crowded roads.

The most dramatic example of the tragedy was seen in Mati, a coastal town and a popular holiday destination for many Athenians, where of 24 people were found dead, among them several children, caught between two housing complexes just 30 metres from the sea, which they could not reach due to the speed of the flames.

For many, throwing themselves into the sea was the only escape and the Coast Guard rescued 700 from the beaches. The fires have left the country in a state of shock and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras immediately decreed three days of mourning. “Greece is experiencing an inexplicable tragedy,” he said.

Authorities are investigating the cause of the fires and suspect some may be intentional.

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