Greece declares state of emergency as at least 50 die in wildfires

Greece declares state of emergency as at least 50 die in wildfires

Survivors of the wildfires that have killed at least 74 people in Greece have described how they were forced into the sea by a blaze that "struck like a flamethrower".

The lucky ones were able to leap off the cliffs to survive, or rush into the sea from the beach. As 50 miles per hour winds pushed the fires, residents and tourists took refuge on ocean beaches. AFP photographers saw the burned bodies of people and dogs. Red Cross rescuers who found them said they appeared to be families or groups of friends, as they were found hugging in groups of three and four.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras declared a state of emergency in the Attica region, which includes Athens.

"I saw it with my eyes, it is a real total catastrophe", he said.

Her mother was Athina Karakoulaki, 48, whom she last spoke to on Monday afternoon as the flames closed in.

"They caught fire. I ran out like a insane person, got to the beach and put my head in the water".

Before news of the grim discovery, the official death toll stood at 24.

The Greek government invoked European Union civil protection agreements to seek help from EU peers, with the country tinderbox dry and at risk of more fires. More than 1000 buildings and 300 cars were damaged, the village turned into a smouldering wreck.

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

The fires are the worst Greece has experienced in over a decade, seeing dozens of homes destructed.

Thousands of locals and vacationers fled to the sea to try to escape the wind-swept flames that left death and destruction in their wake across several communities.

Authorities were trying to evacuate inhabitants, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said.

"People are shocked, lost". He announced three days of national mourning.

Zoe Holohan
Zoe Holohan is in hospital after suffering burns to her head and hands

Newspaper printed banner headlines including "Killer Fire" and "Hell" and reported fears the death toll would climb. The flames had not reached Athens nor were they threatening any of the famous ancient Greek ruins surrounding the area, officials said Tuesday.

Greece sought global help through the European Union.

Tsipras said "all emergency forces have been mobilized" to battle fires along at least three fronts.

A man stands next to his burned house and auto as he speaks on his cellphone in Mati, east of Athens, Wednesday, July 25, 2018.

Hundreds of children were also evacuated from holiday camps.

"I am really concerned by the parallel outbreak of these fires", he said, with officials raising the possibility they could have been started deliberately by criminals out to ransack abandoned homes.

Bekir Pakdemirli, Turkey's agriculture and forestry minister, in Ankara said the planes are "45 minutes away if there is a request and we are ready to intervene immediately".

What caused the fires in Greece?

There are at least two large fires in Greece.

Fires in 2007 on the southern island of Evia claimed 77 lives.

Sweden is experiencing an unprecedented drought and soaring temperatures which have reached the highest in a century.

As many as 40 people are still thought to be missing, and firefighters are continuing to check on houses in the area to search for victims.

Meanwhile in Finland's northernmost Lapland province, fires have ravaged woods and grassland close to the border with Russian Federation.

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