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Greek firefighters continue to battle deadly wildfires as two more arrested for arson | CBC News

Firefighters in Greece arrested two men on Saturday for allegedly deliberately starting wildfires while hundreds of firefighters battled blazes that have killed at least 21 people over the past week.

A man has been arrested on the Greek island of Euboea for allegedly setting fire to dried grass in the area of ​​Karystos. Firefighters said the man confessed to setting four other fires in the area in July and August.

A second man arrested in the Larissa area of ​​central Greece was also accused of intentionally setting fire to dried vegetation.

Officials have blamed arson for several fires in Greece over the past week. It was unclear what sparked the country’s biggest fires, including one in the north-eastern region of Evros, where nearly all fire-related deaths have occurred, and another on the outskirts of Athens.

“Some … arsonists set fires and endanger forests, property and most importantly human lives,” Minister for Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Vassilis Kikilias said on Thursday. “What is happening is not only unacceptable, but despicable and criminal.”

A firefighter holds a goat while other firefighters walk by.
Firefighters evacuate a goat during a forest fire in Acharnes, a northern Athens suburb on Wednesday. (Thanassis Stavrakis/The Associated Press)

9 fires in 4 hours

The minister said nine fires had been set in four hours on Thursday morning in the Avlona area at the northern foot of Mount Parnitha, a mountain on the northwest edge of Athens, one of the capital’s last green spaces.

At that time, a major fire was already burning on the south side of the mountain, which continued to burn on Saturday.

“You are committing a crime against the country,” said Kizilias. “We will find you. They will be held accountable before the judiciary.”

Fire trucks drive on a road surrounded by a burned out forest.
On Friday, fire engines were seen on a road surrounded by a burnt forest near the north-west Athens suburb of Fyli. (Michael Varaklas/The Associated Press)

Later on Thursday, police arrested a 45-year-old man on suspicion of arson for allegedly starting at least three fires in the Avlona area. A search of his home found kindling, a fire pistol and pine needles, police said.

Dozens of fires have erupted in Greece every day for the past week as blustery winds and hot, dry summer conditions fanned the blazes and made firefighting more difficult. Firefighters battled 111 fires on Friday, including 59 that broke out in the 24 hours between Thursday and Friday night, the fire department said.

Although most new fires were brought under control in their early stages, some grew into massive blazes that destroyed homes and large areas of forest.

Smoke rises from a burned-out building.
Smoke billows from a damaged farm on Thursday, following a forest fire near the village of Kirki in the Evros region of Greece. (Fedja Grulovic/Reuters)

Storms were forecast for some areas of Greece on Saturday and lightning strikes sparked several fires near the Greek capital. According to the fire service, 100 firefighters, including contingents from France and Cyprus, supported by four helicopters, partially brought the fires under control in four remote areas near the Greek capital within hours.

The fire brigade called on the population to “be particularly careful” and to follow the instructions of the authorities “in view of the strong thunderstorm activity in different parts of the country”.

Victim found dead in forest

The Evros fire, currently Greece’s largest blaze, burned for an eighth day near the city of Alexandroupoli on Saturday, killing at least 20 people. Authorities issued evacuation orders for three villages in the area on Saturday afternoon.

Firefighters found 18 bodies in a forest on Tuesday, one on Monday and another on Thursday. The 18 people included two boys between the ages of 10 and 15. Since no one has been reported missing in the area, authorities believe the victims may have been migrants who recently crossed the border from Turkey.

Greece’s disaster victim identification team has been activated to identify the remains and a telephone hotline has been set up for potential victims’ relatives to call. A man allegedly trying to save his livestock from the advancing flames in central Greece also died on Monday, according to reports.

More than 290 firefighters, supported by five planes and two helicopters, fought the blaze in Evros. Another 260 firefighters, four airplanes and three helicopters fought the Mount Parnitha blaze.

Two people spray a burning house with a hose.
Volunteers try to put out a burning house in Menidi near Athens on Wednesday. (Elias Marcou/Reuters)

Another fire broke out on Saturday on the Cyclades island of Andros, where an evacuation order was also issued for a village. A lightning strike was thought to be the cause.

With firefighters stretched to the limit, Greece has asked other European countries for help. Germany, Sweden, Croatia and Cyprus sent planes while dozens of Romanian, French, Czech, Bulgarian, Albanian, Slovak and Serbian firefighters helped on the ground.

Greece usually enacts wildfire prevention regulations from early May to late October to restrict activities such as burning dried vegetation and the use of outdoor barbecue pits.

Since the start of this year’s fire season, firefighters have arrested 163 people on suspicion of arson, government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis said on Friday, including 118 on charges of negligence and 24 on premeditated arson. Police made another 18 arrests, he said.

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