Greece discovers 18 charred bodies as wildfires spread across southern Europe

  • The fire service says the bodies may have been immigrants
  • Greek hospital patients are evacuated on the ferry
  • Firefighters are also fighting fires in Spain and Italy
  • Scientists associate hot, dry conditions with climate change

ALEXANDROPOLIS, Greece (Reuters) – The fire brigade said it found 18 charred bodies in a remote village in northeastern Greece where wildfires have been raging for days, as a heat wave that sent red alerts across southern Europe turned deadly.

Firefighters said they were investigating whether the bodies found near a hut south of the village of Avantas belonged to migrants. The surrounding Evros region is a popular route for migrants from the Middle East and Asia crossing from Turkey.

And in Spain, Italy and Portugal, firefighters were battling blazes as the region experienced hot, dry conditions and winds that scientists have linked to climate change.

Meteorologists said temperatures in many parts of the region are expected to reach or exceed 40 degrees Celsius. Italy and France declared red alerts in a number of regions.

The latest heat wave comes after July, which was the hottest month on record. About 20,000 people were evacuated from the Greek island of Rhodes in mid-July, and a severe fire broke out in the Spanish city of La Palma.

Fires on the Hawaiian island of Maui earlier this month killed more than 110 people, while Canada this week deployed an army to British Columbia to tackle the fast-spreading blazes.

In Greece, high winds complicated fire control efforts.

“The weather conditions are severe and will continue to be severe for the coming days,” Vassilis Varthakogiannis, a spokesman for the fire service, told ERT television.

Fifty-six firefighters arrived in Greece from Romania on Tuesday, and Athens expects more help from the Czech Republic, Croatia, Germany and Sweden.

Hospital evacuation

Authorities said the 18 bodies were found south of the village of Avantas, near the vast Dadia forest. Another body, believed to belong to a migrant, was found on Monday in a rural area about 40 km away.

The fire brigade said: “Since there are no reports of disappearances or missing residents from the surrounding areas, the possibility that these were people who entered the country illegally is being investigated.” She added that searches are continuing.

And in the Greek port city of Alexandroupolis, not far from Avantas, forest fires forced the evacuation of dozens of patients in hospitals, including newborn babies. A ferry has been converted into a temporary hospital after 65 patients were evacuated from the university hospital.

Elderly patients were lying on mattresses strewn across the cafeteria floor, while paramedics tended to others on stretchers, and a woman was carrying a man resting on a couch, who had been hooked up for an intravenous drip.

“I’ve been working for 27 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said nurse Nikos Geoktsidis. “Stretchers everywhere, patients here, intravenous fluids there… It was like a war, like a bomb exploded.”

Fires also broke out on Tuesday near the capital, Athens. A blaze on the outskirts of the city, at the foot of Mount Parnitha, burned homes and forced residents to flee.

Forest fires hit Spain and Italy

In Spain, where much of the country was at very high or severe risk of wildfires amid the summer’s fourth heat wave, authorities had been struggling to stem a massive forest fire that had ravaged forests on the island of Tenerife for a week.

The fire destroyed 15 thousand hectares in 12 municipalities, which led to the evacuation of thousands of people.

And in neighboring Portugal, authorities have placed more than 120 municipalities in the northern and central regions, as well as in some parts of the Algarve – a popular holiday destination in the south – at maximum risk of wildfires due to the heat.

More than 100 firefighters, supported by 10 aircraft, are fighting a forest fire that broke out Monday night in the northern city of Baiao.

In Italy, about 700 people were evacuated after a fire broke out on Monday on the Tuscan island of Elba in the woods between Rio Marina, firefighter Alessandro Vitaliano told Reuters. No more losses were recorded.

Italy issued red alerts for hot weather in 16 of the country’s 27 major cities on Tuesday, including Rome, Milan and Florence, and the number is set to rise on Wednesday. The health ministry said the red alert indicated “emergency conditions” and advised people not to go out during the hottest part of the day.

Mountains and vineyards affected

In France, four southern regions – the Rhone, Drôme, Ardèche and Haute-Loire – have been placed under red alert, the country’s most serious alert.

Climbers have been asked to postpone climbing Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak, due to the high temperatures.

Grape pickers in the wine-producing regions of southern France have been advised to begin harvesting work in the early hours of the morning to avoid the sweltering heat of late summer.

Temperatures are expected to peak at 42°C in the Rhone Valley during the next 48 hours.

(Reporting by Alexandros Avramidis in Alexandroupolis, Carolina Tagaris and Lefteris Papadimas in Athens, Dominique Vidalone in Paris, Gisela Vignoni and Crispian Palmer in Rome, Patricia Roa in Lisbon, Emma Farge in Geneva – Reporting by Mohamed for the Arabic Bulletin – Editing by Mohamed Al Yamani) Writing by Ingrid Melander, European bureaus; Editing by Janet Lawrence, Connor Humphreys and Christina Fincher

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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