Two arrested for arson as deadly wildfires rage in Greece

Major blazes were burning on Saturday with more villages ordered to evacuate

Wildfire destruction in the Fyli suburb of northwest Athens, Greece. AP
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Two men have been arrested in Greece on arson charges after wildfires that tore through the country spreading death and destruction.

One man was arrested on Evia island for allegedly setting fire to dried grass in the Karystos area and the other was accused of intentionally setting fire to dried vegetation in the Larissa area of central Greece.

Officials have blamed arson for several fires in Greece over the past week but it remains unclear what sparked the country's largest blazes, including one in the north-eastern region of Evros, where most fire-related deaths occurred, and another on the fringes of Athens.

Climate monitoring group Copernicus said the Evros wildfire in Greece was one of Europe’s largest ever.

Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias said nine fires were started within four hours on Thursday in the Avlona area in the northern foothills of Mount Parnitha on the northwestern fringes of Athens.

“Some … arsonists are setting fires, endangering forests, property and above all human lives. What is happening is not just unacceptable, but despicable and criminal,” he said.

A major fire was burning on Saturday on the southern side of Mount Parnitha.

The Evros fire was burning for an eighth day Saturday near the city of Alexandroupolis after causing at least 21 deaths. Authorities issued evacuation orders for three villages.

Firefighters found 18 bodies in a forest on Tuesday, one on Monday and another Thursday. The 18 included two boys aged between 10 and 15. With nobody reported missing in the area, authorities believe the victims might have been migrants who recently crossed the border from Turkey.

Greece’s Disaster Victim Identification Team was activated to identify the remains, and a telephone hotline set up for potential relatives of the victims to call.

More than 290 firefighters, backed by five planes and two helicopters, were battling the Evros blaze. Another 260 firefighters, four planes and three helicopters were tackling the Mount Parnitha fire.

Another blaze broke out on the Cycladic island of Andros on Saturday, where an evacuation order for a village was also issued. A lightning strike was reportedly suspected as the cause.

Greece has been plagued by daily outbreaks of dozens of fires over the past week as gale-force winds and hot, dry summer conditions combined to whip up flames and hamper firefighting efforts.

On Friday, firefighters tackled 111 blazes, including 59 that broke out in the 24 hours between Thursday and Friday evenings, the fire department said.

Greece imposes wildfire prevention regulations, typically from the start of May to the end of October, to limit activities such as the burning of dried vegetation and the use of outdoor barbecues.

Since the start of this year’s fire season, fire department officials have arrested 163 people on fire-related charges, government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis said on Friday, including 118 for negligence and 24 for deliberate arson. The police made a further 18 arrests, he said.

Updated: August 26, 2023, 6:02 PM