Greek authorities said Thursday there were serious indications that a deadly wildfire that gutted a vacation resort near Athens was started deliberately, while experts warned that the devastated coastal town had been built like a “fire trap”, with poor safety standards and few escape routes.
Rescuers intensified a grim house-to-house search Wednesday for more casualties from a deadly forest fire outside Athens, as the country’s military said it was using footage from US combat drones and surveillance aircraft to try to determine whether arsonists were behind the blaze and stop future attacks.
Powerful winds of up to 75 miles per hour (120km/h) reportedly fanned the wildfires and caused them to spread uncontrollably on Monday, trapping many in their homes or vehicles as others fled for their lives to nearby beaches to escape the flames.
The fire broke out on Monday at 4:57 p.m. (1357 GMT), but it is still unclear what caused it.
“We mustn’t let mourning overwhelm us, because these hours are hours of battle, unity, courage and above all solidarity”, he said.
Merchant Marine deputy minister Nektarios Santorinios, whose ministry is in charge of the coast guard, said more than 700 people had been evacuated by sea by the coast guard.
Kammenos said the footage from the Greek and USA surveillance aircraft would be analyzed along with satellite images, and that preliminary findings suggested that the fire started at multiple points, which would now be examined on the ground.
On Monday, two fires broke in the east and west coasts of the country’s Attica region, forcing locals to flee to safer areas.
“Now more than ever, it is imperative that the Greek-American community rally and unite to help the people of Greece during this recent and dire crisis”, the American Hellenic Institute said in a press release.
Rescue crews had not been able to enter homes that had not been destroyed and were shut, she said.
Some families in Greece are desperately seeking relatives in the wake of a raging wildfire in seaside areas near Athens. Their bodies were found huddled together.
Nikos Economopoulos, head of Greece’s Red Cross, told Skai TV they had tried to find an escape route “but unfortunately these people and their kids didn’t make it in time”.
Supreme court prosecutors announced they had opened an investigation into the causes of the fire.
“People died for nothing!” one woman sobbed at the minister. “I’m not lying. We’re not talking politically here”, he added, before breaking down in tears.
Firefighters from Cyprus rest during a wildfire at the village of Kineta, near Athens, on Wednesday.
Firefighters are tackling the remaining areas in the two main blazes near the capital, helped by water-dropping aircraft.
The New York Times said that wildfires are an annual occurrence in Greece, but a drought and a recent heat wave, with temperatures over 100 degrees, have helped make this fire particularly risky. “You should keep up to date with local media reports and follow the advice of the Greek authorities in affected areas”. Most visits to Greece, including to Athens, are unaffected.
The mayor of Rafina, Evangelos Bournous, told the BBC on Tuesday that the dead could exceed 100.
Rain is forecast for the coming days, which will help efforts to douse the flames after temperatures topped 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) on Monday.