Greece warns of ‘arson scum’ amid deadly wildfires

Firefighters have battled hundreds of wildfires across the country over the past week.

As firefighters battle wildfires raging across swathes of Greece that have killed at least 20 people, authorities have warned that “arson scum” is trying to start new fires.

Nine attempted arson attacks took place over a four-hour period Thursday morning in the Avlona district in the northern foothills of Mount Parnitha, about 30 miles north of Athens, according to Greece’s Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias.

“The scum of arsonists are setting fires that threaten forests, property and, most of all, human lives,” Kikilias said in a televised statement on Thursday. “You are committing a crime against the country. You will not escape punishment. We will find you and you will be held accountable.”

Authorities have arrested 140 people over the bushfires so far, including 117 for negligence and 23 for arson. Almost all of them were employed in outdoor thermal or agricultural work, according to the Hellenic Fire Service, the national agency for fire and rescue services.

On Tuesday, firefighters discovered the bodies of 18 people believed to be migrants in a recently burned area of ​​a forest near the northeastern coastal city of Alexandroupolis, close to Greece’s border with Turkey, according to the Hellenic Fire Service. The Associated Press reported that two more people died on Monday, one in northern Greece and the other in the central part of the European country.

While working to contain hundreds of wildfires across the country over the past week, at least 60 firefighters have been injured or developed serious breathing problems, according to the Hellenic Fire Service.

The fire in the Alexandroupolis district burned more than 730 square kilometers (282 square miles) in six days, making it the largest ever in the European Union, according to European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic. Eight countries within the European Union have deployed a total of 246 firefighters, 40 vehicles and eight aircraft to help Greece, according to the European Commission. The Greek fire service said Bulgarian, Albanian, Romanian and Czech firefighters were helping with their vehicles in the Alexandroupolis fire.

Another major forest fire is burning on the outskirts of the Greek capital, and has spread to the National Park at Mount Parnitha, one of the last green areas near Athens, according to the Associated Press. The Greek fire service said 260 firefighters, along with 19 from France, were fighting the Parnitha fire with the support of various aircraft, including some from Germany and Sweden.

Greece suffers devastating forest fires every summer. The deadliest attack killed 104 people in 2018 in a seaside resort near Athens that residents had not been warned to evacuate. Since then, the authorities have erred on the side of caution, ordering evacuations whenever populated areas are threatened.

Greece’s climate crisis and civil protection minister described the situation as “unprecedented”. Many regions of Greece have been placed in Level 5, the highest fire risk level, seven times so far this year, which Kikilias said was twice the number in 2021, four times the number in 2019 and seven times the number in 2012. .

“This summer is the worst since the collection of meteorological data began and the fire risk map was issued for the first time in the country,” he told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday.

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