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18 bodies found in Greek forest as wildfires ravage north of the country

Flames burn a forest during a wildfire in Avantas village, near Alexandroupolis town, in the northeastern Evros region, Greece, Monday, Aug. 21, 2023.
Flames burn a forest during a wildfire in Avantas village, near Alexandroupolis town, in the northeastern Evros region, Greece, Monday, Aug. 21, 2023. Copyright Achilleas Chiras/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Achilleas Chiras/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Euronews
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Firefighters on Tuesday found the burnt bodies of 18 people believed to have been migrants who had crossed the Turkish border into an area of northeastern Greece where wildfires have raged for days.

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The discovery near the city of Alexandroupolis came as hundreds of firefighters battled dozens of wildfires across the country amid gale-force winds. On Monday, two people died and two firefighters were injured in separate fires in northern and central Greece.

With their hot, dry summers, southern European countries are particularly prone to wildfires. Another major blaze has been burning across Tenerife in Spain's Canary Islands for a week, although no injuries or damage to homes was reported.

European Union officials have blamed climate change for the increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires in Europe, noting that 2022 was the second-worst year for wildfire damage on record after 2017.

Achilleas Chiras/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Flames burn a forest during a wildfire in Avantas village, near Alexandroupolis town, in the northeastern Evros region, Greece, Monday, Aug. 21, 2023.Achilleas Chiras/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

In Greece, police activated the country’s Disaster Victim Identification Team to identify the 18 bodies, which were found near a shack in the Avantas area, fire department spokesman Ioannis Artopios said.

“Given that there have been no reports of a missing person or missing residents from the surrounding areas, the possibility is being investigated that these are people who had entered the country illegally,” Artopios said.

It comes as patients at Alexandroupolis General Hospital were evacuated late on Monday night due to a large fire approaching the northeastern Greek city.

Preparations for a possible evacuation had been announced earlier by the Fire Brigade.

Patients were transferred via ambulances provided by the Health ministry onto a ferry docked at Alexandroupolis port with the help of police.

Two separate alert text messages were issued for residents, alerting them to heavy smoke and ordering them to stay indoors, shutting all doors and windows.

214 firefighters and 50 fire trucks were dispatched to man the flames. 

Infernos continue to spiral out of control on the islands of Evia, Kythnos and the region of Boeotia north of Athens, amid a dangerous mix of gale-force winds and temperatures of up to 41 degrees Celsius.

"There are nine active fronts... it's a similar situation to July," a fire department spokeswoman said.

The European Union announced it was deploying two Cyprus-based firefighting aircraft and a Romanian firefighting team via the bloc's civil protection mechanism.

The very hot and dry conditions that increase the fire risk will persist until Friday, according to meteorologists.

Amid a heatwave, a fire that started on July 18 and was fanned by strong winds ravaged almost 17,770 hectares in 10 days in the south of Rhodes, a popular tourist island in the southeastern Aegean Sea.

Around 20,000 people, mostly tourists, had to be evacuated.

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