ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Authorities battling a major wildfire in northeastern Greece that has been described as the European Union’s largest single recorded fire have recovered another body, the fire department said Friday, bringing the total death toll from wildfires in Greece this week to 21.
The fire department said firefighters recovered the body of a man from the Dadia forest national park, which lies near the border with Turkey, on Thursday.
Eighteen bodies were discovered Tuesday near a shack in an area near the northeastern city of Alexandroupolis and the body of one more person had been found Monday in a forest. In central Greece, a man was found dead Monday in a sheep pen after reportedly trying to save his livestock from an advancing wildfire.
With no reports of missing people in northeastern Greece, authorities suspect the bodies found in the area are those of migrants who may have crossed into the country recently from the nearby border with Turkey. Greece’s Disaster Victim Identification Team has been activated to identify the remains, and a telephone hotline has been set up, operating in English, Arabic, Pashto, Turkish and Urdu for potential relatives of the victims to call.
Across Greece, hundreds of firefighters were making headway Friday in tackling multiple wildfires burning for days, including the major blaze near Alexandroupolis and one on the fringes of Athens.
With gale force winds abating, the situation appeared improved, although neither of the two main wildfires had yet been brought under control, the fire department said.
The Alexandroupolis region fire was burning for a seventh day after combining with smaller fires to create a massive blaze that consumed homes and vast tracts of forest.
According to the European Union’s Copernicus Emergency Management Service, the Alexandroupolis fire had scorched more than 772 square kilometers (nearly 300 square miles) by Thursday. Copernicus is the EU space program’s Earth observation component and uses satellite imagery to provide mapping data.
European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic described it as the largest wildfire on record in the European Union.
Authorities were concentrating on two active fronts, the fire department said, with 295 firefighters backed up with 85 vehicles, four planes and two helicopters.
To the south in Athens, a major fire that scorched homes on the fringes of the Greek capital and entered the national park on Mount Parnitha had one main active front, the fire department said. The blaze was being tackled by 260 firefighters backed up by 77 vehicles, 8 planes and five helicopters.
Authorities have been faced with dozens of new fires each day, with the fire department saying its forces tackled 104 blazes in the 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday evening.
Officials have said arson has been to blame for some fires. On Thursday, police arrested a 45-year-old man on suspicion of arson for allegedly setting at least three fires in the Avlona area north of Athens. A search of his home revealed kindling, a fire torch gun and pine needles, police said.
The fire department said Friday another man was arrested on the island of Evia for deliberate arson, while on Thursday a man was arrested for negligent arson after allegedly throwing a burning cigarette into a field of dried grass and olive trees, sparking a fire.