Europe's largest wildfire rages in Greece for 11th day

Police investigate as vigilantes accuse migrants of starting fires

Greece's fire service says the blaze is 'still out of control' in the north-east region's Dadia National Park. Bloomberg
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The EU has mobilised almost half of its firefighting fleet to help tackle Europe's largest wildfire in Greece as it burns for the 11th day.

The blaze is “the largest wildfire ever recorded in the EU”, the European Commission said on Tuesday, noting that it has burnt over 810 square kilometres – an area bigger than New York City.

“This wildfire is the largest in the EU since 2000, when the European Forest Fire Information System began recording data,” EU spokesman Balazs Ujvari said.

On Tuesday, 11 planes, one helicopter and 407 firefighters sent by the EU were tackling the fires north of the city of Alexandroupoli, he added.

Greece's fire service says the blaze is “still out of control” in the north-east region's Dadia National Park, a major sanctuary for birds of prey.

The bodies of 20 migrants who were trapped in the fires have been found in the Alexandroupolis and Evros regions near the border with Turkey, in an area difficult to access.

The fires have led to a rise in attacks on migrants, who have been blamed for starting the fires.

On Tuesday, a video circulating online showed a group of vigilantes in Evros detaining four migrants, with one man in the group appearing to have been beaten.

It comes a week after police detained a man who had allegedly held migrants in a trailer while calling on citizens to “go out and round up” refugees, whom he accused of setting the wildfires.

Human rights activist Iasonas Apostolopoulos, who runs rescue missions to help migrants in distress at sea, posted the video on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Another Nazi bounty hunter in Evros with two of his accomplices has immobilised four immigrants on a dirt road and is making a live video,” he wrote.

“One of the four people on the ground appears to be beaten. Below [the video] are dozens of comments calling for the execution of refugees. He even writes that he does not know if the four refugees are arsonists – he says he arrested them because they entered the country illegally.”

Last week, Greek police arrested three men who were filmed detaining 13 Syrian and Pakistani migrants in a van.

The video posted on social media showed a jeep pulling a trailer along a dirt road in northern Greece, and the man can be heard asking another person to open its doors. Two migrant men can be seen crammed inside the trailer.

“Get organised, let's all go out and round them up. They will burn us,” the man, who police said is a foreign citizen, can be heard saying in Greek.

The semi-official state news agency ANA said a Supreme Court prosecutor had ordered an investigation into the issue.

In a document published by ANA, the prosecutor is quoted as saying: “Phenomena of racist violence against immigrants are worrying.”

She described the video as “a racist delirium of violence, accusing immigrants of 'burning us' and inciting others to racist pogroms, calling on them to organise and imitate him”.

The three men, two Greek citizens and one Albanian, have been arrested on suspicion of incitement to commit crimes of violence with a racist motive as well as racially motivated kidnapping and endangerment.

Mr Apostolopoulos said other footage has emerged of vigilantes giving advice to others on “how to attack migrants in the forest without being caught by the police”.

“This is the result of the government’s policy which invests on racism and the idea that Turkey is conducting hybrid warfare against Greece,” he said.

Updated: August 30, 2023, 2:44 AM