ATHENS – Gale-fanned wildfires raged through holiday resorts near Greece’s capital, killing at least 20 people by early Tuesday and injuring more than 104, including 11 in serious condition, in the deadliest blaze to hit the country in more than a decade.
Greece sought international help through the European Union as the fires on either side of Athens left lines of cars torched, charred farms and forests, and sent hundreds of people racing to beaches to be evacuated by navy vessels, yachts and fishing boats.
Winds reached 80 kph (50 mph) as authorities deployed the country’s entire fleet of water-dropping planes and helicopters to give vacationers time to escape. Military drones remained in the air in the high winds to help officials direct more than 600 firefighters below.
“We were unlucky. The wind changed and it came at us with such force that it razed the coastal area in minutes,” said Evangelos Bournous, mayor of the port town of Rafina, a sleepy mainland port that serves Greek holiday islands.
The dock area became a makeshift hospital as paramedics checked survivors when they came off coast guard vessels and private boats. The operation continued through the night.
The fire posed no immediate threat to Greece’s famed ancient monuments, but as it raged inland children’s’ summer camps and holiday homes were hastily abandoned. Fleeing drivers clogged highways into Athens, hampering the firefighting effort.
It was the deadliest fire season to hit Greece in more than a decade. More than 60 people were killed in 2007 when huge fires swept across the southern Peloponnese region.
“It’s a difficult night for Greece,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said after flying back to Athens from a trip to Bosnia that was cut short.
Authorities said Cyprus and Spain offered assistance after the request for EU help was made.
Greek Fire Service officials issued public pleas for residents in fire-affected areas to comply with evacuation orders and not stay on in an effort trying to save their homes.
Rafina’s mayor said he believed about 100 houses in that area had burned. The fire service was not able to confirm the figure.
Showers that passed over the Greek capital Monday missed the two big fires _ one at Rafina, 30 kilometres (18 miles) to the east, and the other at Kineta, 55 kilometres (35 miles) to the west. Heavy rain is forecast across southern Greece on Wednesday.