Two major forest fires raged out of control on either side of Greece’s capital Monday, leaving at least three people dead, injuring dozens, burning houses and sending people fleeing to beaches and into the sea, where coast guard boats battled gale force winds to evacuate them.
Regional authorities declared a state of emergency in the western and eastern parts of Attica, the greater Athens area, while Greece called on the European Union for assistance with aerial and ground support in helping battle the flames. Greece said Cyprus offered to send firefighters while Spain offered water-dropping aircraft.
The coast guard said it had transported the bodies of three people — a man, a woman and a girl — which were passed on by firefighters for transport to the port of Rafina northeast of Athens, near the location of one of the two major fires.
The head of the Health Ministry’s emergency coordination office said two burned bodies had been transported to a hospital in Athens. It was not immediately clear whether the bodies were among those taken by the coast guard or were additional casualties.
The Health Ministry said 56 people had been hospitalized, most of them suffering burns, with 11 of the injured listed in serious condition. At least five major hospitals in the capital were put on alert for more potential casualties.
Boats delivered people to docks still dressed in nothing but swimsuits, while port police took down names as they disembarked.
Several other fires broke out across the country, including in northeastern Greece and the southern island of Crete, stretching Greece’s firefighting capabilities. Gale force winds that frequently changed direction and continued into the night were hampering firefighting efforts.
The coast guard was searching with a helicopter and patrol vessel for eight people, believed to be Danish tourists, who had fled the flames near Rafina in a boat and were reported missing. Another two who had been in the same boat were rescued by a passing ferry about 3 nautical miles (5.5 kilometers, 3.4 miles) east of Rafina and were in good health.
The coast guard said the same ferry also rescued seven other people who had fled into the sea, but none were from the missing boat. The coast guard sent five vessels to rescue people trapped on nearby beaches by the flames. It said initial reports indicated about 80-85 people needed evacuation by sea.
“We are doing everything humanly possible to tray and tackle these fires,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in Bosnia before cutting short a visit there to return to Athens. “What concerns us is that there are fires occurring simultaneously.”
Speaking after arriving in Athens and being briefed on the situation, Tsipras said more than 600 firefighters and 300 vehicles were involved in fighting the fires.