Wildfire Kills Dozens Near Athens

Firemen and soldiers escape from spreading flames near Athens.Firemen and soldiers escape from spreading flames near Athens.

A wildfire killed at least 60 people and injured scores more as it swept through a small resort town near Athens and trapped families with children behind walls of smoke and flames as they tried to flee to the beach.

Emergency crews found one group of 26 victims, some of them youngsters, lying close together in a field just 30 meters from the sea near Mati in eastern Greece, Reuters reported.

"They had tried to find an escape route but unfortunately these people and their kids didn't make it in time. Instinctively, seeing the end nearing, they embraced," Nikos Economopoulos, head of Greece's Red Cross, told Skai TV.

The fire was by far Greece's worst since flames devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing dozens. It broke out in Mati late Monday afternoon and was still burning in some areas on Tuesday morning.

Coastguard vessels were combing beaches to find any remaining survivors, with military hospitals on full alert, a government spokesman said.

"Residents and visitors in the area did not escape in time even though they were a few meters from the sea or in their homes," fire brigade spokeswoman Stavroula Maliri said.

The 26 deaths came on top of the more than 20 reported by government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos earlier on Tuesday.

One of the youngest victims was thought to be a six-month-old baby who died of smoke inhalation, officials said. Of the 156 people injured, 11 were in intensive care, they added.

The coastguard said four more bodies were retrieved from the sea. In total, coastguard and other vessels rescued 696 people who had fled to beaches. Boats plucked another 19 people alive from the water.

Greece's fire brigade said the intensity and spread of the wildfire at Mati had slowed on Tuesday as winds died down, but it was still not fully under control. The service urged residents to report missing relatives and friends.


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