ALEXANDROUPOLIS (GREECE): Eighteen charred bodies were found in a remote village in northeastern Greece on Tuesday where wildfires have been raging for days, the fire brigade said, as a heatwave that has seen red alerts issued across southern Europe turned deadly.
Firefighters said they were investigating whether the bodies, found near a shack south of the village of Avantas, were migrants. The surrounding Evros region is a popular route for migrants from the Middle East and Asia crossing from Turkey.
In Spain, Italy and Portugal, firefighters were battling blazes as the region suffered hot, dry and windy conditions that scientists have linked to climate change.
Temperatures in many parts of the region were expected to reach or exceed 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), forecasters said. Italy and France declared red alerts in a number of areas.
The latest heatwave comes after a July that was the hottest month on record. Some 20,000 people were evacuated on the Greek island of Rhodes in mid-July and a severe fire hit Spain’s La Palma.
Blazes on Hawaii’s Maui island earlier this month killed more than 110 people, while Canada this week deployed the military in British Columbia to tackle fast-spreading fires.
In Greece, gale-force winds complicated the efforts to control the fires.
“Weather conditions are extreme and will remain extreme for the coming days,” Fire Service spokesman Vassilis Varthakogiannis told ERT TV.
Fifty-six firefighters arrived in Greece from Romania on Tuesday and Athens was expecting further assistance from the Czech Republic, Croatia, Germany and Sweden.
The 18 bodies were found south of the village of Avantas near the vast Dadia forest, authorities said. Another body thought to belong to a migrant was found on Monday, in a rural area some 40 km (25 miles) away.
“Given that there have been no reports of disappearances or missing residents from the surrounding areas, the possibility that these are people who entered the country illegally is being investigated,” the fire brigade said. It said searches were ongoing.
In the Greek port town of Alexandroupolis, not far from Avantas, wildfires forced the evacuation of dozens of hospital patients, including newborn babies. A ferry was turned into a makeshift hospital after 65 patients were evacuated from the University Hospital.
Elderly patients lay on mattresses strewn across the cafeteria floor, paramedics attended to others on stretchers and a woman held a man resting on a sofa, an IV drip attached to his hand.
Fires also broke out on Tuesday near the capital Athens, where a blaze on the city’s outskirts, on the foothills of Mount Parnitha, burned homes and forced residents to flee.
In Spain, where most of the country was in very high or extreme risk of wildfire amid the summer’s fourth heatwave, authorities were struggling to stabilise a huge wildfire that has been ravaging forests on the island of Tenerife for a week.
The blaze has burned through 15,000 hectares in 12 municipalities forcing the evacuation of thousands of people.
In neighbouring Portugal, authorities placed more than 120 municipalities in the north and central areas, as well as in some parts of the Algarve – a popular holiday destination in the south – at maximum risk of wildfires due to the heat.
More than 100 firefighters backed by 10 aircraft were battling a wildfire that erupted on Monday night in the northern city of Baião.
In Italy, around 700 people were evacuated after a fire broke out on Monday on the Tuscan island of Elba, in the woods between Rio Marina, firefighter Alessandro Vitaliano told Reuters. No casualties have been reported.
Italy issued hot weather red alerts in 16 of the country’s 27 main cities on Tuesday, including Rome, Milan and Florence, with the number set to rise on Wednesday. A red alert denotes “emergency conditions”, the health ministry said, advising people not to go out during the hottest part of the day.
In France, four southern regions – the Rhone, Drome, Ardeche and Haute-Loire – were placed under red alert, the country’s most serious warning.
Climbers were asked to delay scaling Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak, because of high temperatures.
Grape-pickers in wine-producing regions of southern France have been advised to start work on the harvest in the early hours of the morning to avoid sweltering in the late summer heatwave.
Temperatures were expected to peak at 42C in the Rhone valley over the next 48 hours.