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Greece warns of ‘arsonist scum’ amid deadly wildfires

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(ATHENS, Greece) — As firefighters battle wildfires raging across swathes of Greece that have killed at least 20 people, authorities warned that “arsonist scum” are trying to ignite new blazes.

There were nine arson attempts within a period of four hours on Thursday morning in the Avlona area in the northern foothills of Mount Parnitha, some 30 miles north of Athens, according to Greek Minister of Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Vassilis Kikilias.

“Arsonist scum are setting fires that threaten forests, property and, most of all, human lives,” Kikilias said in a televised statement on Thursday. “You are committing a crime against the country. You will not get away with it. We will find you and you will be held accountable.”

Authorities have made 140 wildfire-related arrests so far, including 117 for negligence and 23 for deliberate arson. Almost all were for heat-inducing or agricultural outdoor work, according to the Hellenic Fire Service, the national agency for fire and rescue service.

On Tuesday, firefighters discovered the bodies of 18 people believed to be migrants in a recently burned area of a forest near the northeastern port city of Alexandroupolis, which is close to Greece’s border with Turkey, according to the Hellenic Fire Service.

While working to contain hundreds of wildfires nationwide over the past week, at least 60 firefighters have been injured or have developed serious breathing problems, according to the Hellenic Fire Service.

The blaze in the Alexandroupolis region has burned more than 730 square kilometers (282 square miles) in six days, making it the largest on record in the European Union, according to European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic. Eight countries within the European Union have deployed a total of 246 firefighters, 40 vehicles and eight aircraft to assist Greece, according to the European Commission. The Hellenic Fire Service said Bulgarian, Albanian, Romanian and Czech firefighters with vehicles were helping in the Alexandroupolis fire.

Greece suffers destructive wildfires every summer. The deadliest killed 104 people in 2018 in a seaside resort near Athens that residents had not been warned to evacuate. Authorities have since erred on the side of caution, ordering evacuations whenever inhabited areas are under threat.

Greece’s climate crisis and civil protection minister described the situation as unprecedented. Many areas of Greece have been placed at Level 5, the highest for fire risk, seven times so far this year, which Kikilias said was twice as many in 2021, four times more than in 2019 and seven times that of 2012.

“This summer is the worst since meteorological data began to be collected and and the fire risk map was first issued in the country,” he told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday.

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