The burned bodies of 18 suspected migrants have been found in a remote rural area in northern Greece where wildfires have been burning for several days.
Firefighters are desperately trying to douse the flames with water but the blaze is raging through the Evros region in northeastern Greece and close to the capital of Athens.
The wildfires, which were sparked by a dangerous mix of 41C heat and gale-force winds four days ago, have killed 20 people and destroyed dozens of homes across the country.
Authorities said they believe they have found the burned bodies of 18 migrants near a shack in the Avanta area north of the city of Alexandroupoli.
‘Given that there have been no reports of disappearances or missing residents from the surrounding areas, the possibility that these are people who entered the country illegally is being investigated,’ fire department spokesman Yiannis Artopios.
Officials believe the suspected migrants entered the region via Turkey, a popular route for those travelling to Greece illegally.
Searches throughout the entire area where the fire broke out are ongoing,’ Artopios added.
The wildfires are continuing to burn unchecked in the northeast of the country near the port city of Alexandroupolis, on the islands of Evia and Kynthos, as well as the region of Boeotia north of Athens.
‘There are nine active fronts… it’s a similar situation to July,’ a fire department spokeswoman said, referring to a wave of wildfires that left five dead last month.
The latest deaths of 18 suspected migrants pushed the overall toll from this week’s fires to 20, after another suspected migrant was found dead in the area Monday.
An elderly shepherd had also been found dead north of Athens on Monday.
In Alexandroupolis, where flames have come perilously close to the University hospital, 65 patients were evacuated in the early hours of this morning onto a ferry in the city’s port as a precaution.
Another 14 people were evacuated by a coast guard vessel from a beach near the village of Makri.
Several communities in the broader Evros region, near the border with Turkey, have been evacuated as authorities warned the risk of new fires remained high in the coming days.
‘Under extreme weather conditions, mainly due to gale-force winds, a huge effort has been made to manage fire fronts that broke out simultaneously in many parts of the country,’ fire brigade spokesperson Ioannis Artopios said late on Monday.
‘The hours we are going through are extremely critical.’
Over 60 fires had erupted in the last 24 hours, and six countries were sending help via the European Union’s civil protection mechanism, the fire department said.
Some 120 firefighters from Cyprus, Romania, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Germany, and Serbia will pitch in, fire department spokesman Vassilis Vathrakogiannis told state TV ERT.
Meanwhile, the European Union announced it was deploying two Cyprus-based firefighting aircraft and a Romanian firefighting team via the bloc’s civil protection mechanism.
A new fire broke out Tuesday at a landfill in the industrial zone of Aspropyrgos near Athens, covering the area in a noxious black cloud.
Officials shut down the nearest section of the Athens ring road and advised residents to stay indoors.
Another fire broke out in the foothills of Mount Parnitha near the capitals, prompting evacuations.