Driven by winds of up to 65mph and 104F (40C) temperatures, the worst Greek forest fires in a decade have been described as a ‘national tragedy’ and a ‘biblical disaster with human losses’. One of the youngest victim was a six-month-old baby who died of smoke inhalation.
Dashing to the water was the only way to escape for most villagers, but some – including families with children found clasped in a last embrace – perished behind a wall of flames and toxic smoke as the ‘lightning quick fire’ swept from the hillsides to the sea in less than ten minutes.
Charred bodies were found on a narrow road clogged with traffic in the village, which a local mayor said ‘no longer exists’. Some survivors spent fraught hours choking on clouds of ash at the edge of the water as they waited for help and watched their town burn.
In the same resort, horrified officials found 26 bodies, apparently families, huddled tightly together in ‘a final attempt to protect themselves’. They were less than 100ft from the sea having apparently made a desperate attempt to escape from their villas – but ended up trapped between fire and cliffs. One girl died as she tried to jump into the water as flames approached.
Officials have asked for US drones ‘to observe and detect any suspicious activity’ as it emerged 15 fires had started at the same time in three different areas near Athens – possibly by criminals intending to ransack homes once they were abandoned by fleeing residents.