Wildfires raging around Athens, Greece are responsible for more than 50 deaths, marking the deadliest fire season to hit the country in more than a decade.
Twin wildfires that broke out Monday around the Greek capital of Athens have claimed the lives of at least 60 people and injured more than 100 in what is being called the deadliest fire season for the country since 2007, CBS News reports.
According to Stavroula Malliri, a fire department spokeswoman, the wildfires broke out Monday in Kineta, located about 30 miles west of Athens, and Rafina, northeast of the capital, and were fanned by gale-force winds and record high temperatures. The twin fires quickly spread to an inhabited area known to be a popular holiday resort, trapping people in their cars and homes and preventing them from fleeing.
“The police tried to direct us away from the fire. But we couldn't escape it,” former Greek Communist Party leader Aleka Papariga, who managed to survive the fire near Rafina, said. “We got stuck in traffic and the flames were on top of us. We managed to find a small gap and we made it out."
As the fires torched the surrounding homes, cars, and forests, hundreds of people fled to the beaches, where navy vessels, yachts, and fishing boats rescued 19 people at sea and evacuated another 696 people from shore.
“Everything happened in seconds. I grabbed a beach towel. It saved my life. I soaked it, grabbed my wife and we ran to the sea,” Andreaas Passios, who escaped the fires, said.
The fires have killed at least 60 people, the death toll quickly rising on Tuesday when rescuers discovered the bodies of 26 people huddled together in the seaside area northeast of Athens. It is believed that the victims were all family members. Another 156 adults and 16 children have been hospitalized as a result of the wildfires, with 11 of the adults said to be in serious condition.
Greece deployed the entirety of the country’s fleet of water-dropping planes and helicopters in an effort to battle the fires and has since sought international help through the European Union, with Spain sending two firefighting aircraft and Cyprus sending 60 firefighters to help on the ground. Turkey and Israel have also offered their help.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has declared three days of national mourning for those killed by the fires, the deadliest to hit the country since more than 60 people were killed when wildfires swept across the southern Peloponnese region in 2007.