Rescue crews search for missing in Greek wildfires; 79 dead

MATI, Greece (AP) — Rescue crews were searching today through charred homes and cars for those still missing after the deadliest wildfires to hit Greece in decades decimated seaside areas near Athens, killing at least 79 people and sending thousands fleeing.

There was no official indication as to how many people might be missing, and some took to social media and Greek television stations with appeals for information on their loved ones.

Fire service spokeswoman Stavroula Malliri said the death toll had increased by five to 79.

More than 280 firefighters were still in the area to the northeast of Athens in the wider Rafina area, dousing the remaining flames to prevent flare-ups. A further 200 firefighters backed up by a water-dropping helicopter were tackling the second forest fire west of the capital, near Agioi Theodori, where local authorities pre-emptively evacuated three nearby communities overnight.

Flags across Greece were flying at half-staff after the prime minister declared three days of national mourning for the victims.

The two fires on either side of the Greek capital started Monday within hours of each other, and were fanned by gale-force winds that hampered firefighting efforts.

The speed with which the fire northeast of Athens spread took many by surprise, and is believed to have contributed to the high death toll.

“We couldn’t see any fire. The fire came suddenly. There was so much wind, we didn’t realize how it happened,” said Anna Kiriazova, 56, who survived with her husband by shutting themselves in their house instead of trying to flee through the flames.

Kiriazova said they doused their house in the Mati area near Rafina with water from a garden hose, and credited the fact that their window frames were metal instead of wood for their home being spared.