Greek Wildfires Toll Rises to 79

Firefighters and volunteers try to extinguish flames during a wildfire at the village  of Kineta, near Athens, on July 24.Firefighters and volunteers try to extinguish flames during a wildfire at the village  of Kineta, near Athens, on July 24.

At least 79 people died in huge wildfires around Athens, Greek authorities said Wednesday, as rescuers scoured scorched homes and burned-out cars for survivors of one of the deadliest fire outbreaks in Europe’s modern history.

Scores of locals and holidaymakers fled to the sea to try to escape the flames as they tore through towns near Athens stoked by 100-kilometer-per-hour wind gusts, devouring woodland and hundreds of buildings.

Greek media have described the disaster as a “national tragedy”, while Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras cut short a visit to Bosnia and announced three days of national mourning, AFP reported.

The government has not yet said how many people are still missing from the fires, which broke out on Monday, as firefighters continue to battle blazes in some areas.

Terrified residents and tourists were overtaken by the flames in homes, on foot or in their cars. The charred bodies of 26 people, including small children, were discovered at a villa at the seaside resort of Mati, 40 kilometers northeast of Athens, rescuers said.

On Wednesday a blaze was threatening houses near the seaside town of Kineta, 25 kilometers west of Athens.

 Deadliest Ever Greek Fire

Dozens of firefighters were battling the flames aided by helicopters and planes dropping thousands of gallons of water.

A fire service official said that searches to find those missing in the fires would continue on Wednesday, although there was still no official word on the number of people unaccounted for.

Spokeswoman Stavroula Maliri said authorities knew of “79 dead”, surpassing the 77 people killed in the previous deadliest fires in Greece, on the southern island of Evia in 2007.

Some 187 people have been hospitalized, with 82 being treated on Tuesday evening, including almost a dozen children, most of whom were in a “serious condition”, the fire services said.

Rain is forecast for the coming days, which will help efforts to douse the flames after temperatures topped 40 degrees Celsius on Monday.

Dramatic video footage showed people fleeing by car as the tourist-friendly Attica region declared a state of emergency.

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