Greece counts cost of deadliest wildfires in memory

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Greece was counting the cost of its deadliest wildfires in living memory, as emergency crews searched incinerated homes and vehicles for the missing after at least 81 people were confirmed to have died.

Firefighters were still dealing with pockets of flames from the unprecedented outbreak around Athens as the government — which has come in for heavy criticism following the disaster — announced a raft of measures to compensate those affected.

The fires, which broke out on Monday, struck coastal villages popular with holidaymakers and burned with such ferocity that most people fled to the safety of the sea with just the clothes on their backs.

Survivors spoke of harrowing scenes including entire families burned alive in their homes.
One resident of Mati, the village worst affected, described it as “a night of hell”.

A fire service spokesman told AFP on Thursday that a blaze near Kineta, 25 kilometres (15 miles) west of Athens, was largely being managed, though it was still working to extinguish pockets of flames.

There was still no official word on the number of people missing after the catastrophe, but the death toll of 81 already makes this Greece’s worst fire outbreak in decades.

Among those killed was a newly married Irishman who had been on honeymoon in Mati when his car was caught in the wildfires. Although his wife Zoe managed to escape to a nearby beach, she was taken to hospital with burns, according to British media.

An emergency services spokeswoman said firefighters were still searching for people reported missing by their relatives.

She added that relatives of those missing had been asked to provide DNA samples to help authorities identify bodies.

A website set up by residents lists 27 people still unaccounted for, including a pair of nine-year-old twin girls.

When the fires broke out on Monday evening, terrified residents and tourists were overtaken by the flames in homes, on foot or in their cars. Photographers saw the burnt bodies of people and dogs.

Some 187 people were hospitalised, with 71 still being treated as of Wednesday evening, including almost a dozen children, most of whom were in a “serious condition”, the fire services said.

In addition to 10,000 euros to the immediate relatives of someone who died, the government said it would provide 5,000 euros per property affected.

Initial reports suggest at least 300 homes were destroyed or badly damaged in the fires.
Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos announced a relief fund open to donations worth an initial 40 million ($47 million) euros to help affected areas.

But the measures did little to assuage public anger over how such a disaster could happen just a few kilometres from Athens.

The opposition daily Ta Nea accused Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ administration of seeking “absolution for its sins” with the compensation package.

The mass-selling Kathimerini published details of what it said was a chaotic meeting held in April to discuss fire prevention in the region.

“Instead of organising the fight against fires, the municipalities, prefectures, fire services and foresters fought with each other,” it said.

The wildfires come as record temperatures in northern Europe have also seen blazes cause widespread damage in recent days.

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