As wildfire, fueled by gale force winds and a dry landscape fanned across the Greek coastal resort town of Mati earlier today, 18 miles east of Athens, news headlines could not keep up with the unfolding tragedy, as the death toll passed 60. Hundreds of firefighters are responding and Greece has requested European Union assistance. The Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, has declared three days of national morning.
The wildfires are the worst to hit Greece since August 2007. While winds have relaxed today and slowed the fire’s spread, the BBC is reporting that its origin came from 15 fires started simultaneously on three different fronts near Athens. They also share quotes from Greek officials that suggest the cause to be arsonists looting abandoned homes.
The town of Mati is a popular summer tourist beach retreat, with many retirees and children attending camps. It is due to this that truly tragic stories of loss are emerging.
Reuters is sharing multiple examples of fatalities caused by evacuating people being trapped by smoke and overrun by fire. Of note and reported widely, emergency responders found a group of 26 individuals, including children, who huddled together near the top of a cliff overlooking a beach as the fire overtook them. Elsewhere, the Greek coastguard has rescued over 700 people who fled Mati to the beaches, with 19 more pulled from the sea and unfortunately, six additional dead bodies.
A video from a Greek military helicopter provides a sense of the scope of devastation in Mati. The town is lush with vegetation and its layout exemplifies what is called the wildfire-urban interface. It is the scenes of burned out blocks of homes, while green trees remain that make the “home ignition zone” and embers the ongoing focus and challenge in the wildfire world.
Much like 2016’s Fort McMurray, Canada, wildfire and recent fires across California, the dry vegetation is only part of the fuel load feeding the flames. Structures ignite and send larger embers across the built environment, becoming an urban conflagration that quickly overwhelms firefighter’s best efforts. CNN International has a series of related videos of the fires within Mati and their impacts.
The coming days will unfortunately provide additional stories of loss. NFPA’s thoughts are with all those affected in Greece and hope for their safety as dry temperatures in the 90’s continue to blanket much of Europe.
Photo Credit: Militaire News, Greece. YouTube: Militaire.gr: Καταστροφή στην ανατολική Αττική - YouTube