Greece wildfires: Polish president extends condolences

On behalf of the Polish nation, Polish President Andrzej Duda expressed to his Greek counterpart his “most sincere condolences and expressions of sympathy for the victims,” and praised the local rescue services for “disregarding the danger to their own life and health.”

Scores have died, including two Polish nationals, and hundreds have be injured in the wildfires that were contained by Tuesday afternoon. The toll is likely to rise, rescue services said.

The seaside resort of Mati − in the Attica region of Greece gutted by the fires − is popular with local tourists, especially pensioners and children attending holiday camps.

In a condolence letter to the Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, President Duda wrote: “In connection with the fires which have been ravaging Attica with tragic consequences, and have also resulted in fatalities, on behalf of the Polish nation and myself I extend to you, Mr President, the most sincere condolences and expressions of sympathy for the victims.”

“At the same time,” the Polish head of state added, “I would like to pass on words of admiration for the Greek rescue services, especially the fire-fighters, who are providing help to those in need, disregarding the danger to their own life and health.”

Polish support

Earlier on Tuesday, President Duda was reported as saying by the Polish press agency, PAP, that Polish Interior Minister Joachim Brudziński had assured him that two teams of the State Fire Service will be provided to Greece “to support the rescue and fire-fighting operation.”

Poland’s foreign ministry appealed for Polish citizens staying in Greece to remain cautious and, in the event of danger, comply strictly with instructions from local emergency services.

The foreign ministry also said that a team “implementing activities aimed at helping Polish citizens” was established at the Polish embassy in Athens. A helpline was also opened at +30 6936554629 for those seeking information.

Meanwhile, former Polish ambassador to Greece and Cyprus (1991-1996), has blamed Greek real estate developers for the fires.

“It’s an open secret that property developers are behind these fires. In this way, they obtain land for future development.”

Photo: Ayhan Mehmet/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

‘Greek Pompeii’

A search for survivors is continuing in Greece, where at least 74 people have died in wildfires east of the capital Athens. Over 150 have been injured.

High winds spread the fire, trapping many in homes and vehicles and forcing others into the sea as they tried to escape the flames.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has declared three days of mourning. He has declared a state of emergency in Attica, saying all emergency services have been mobilized.

On Tuesday, the bodies of 26 adults and children who apparently died embracing each other were found on a cliff top.

“They had tried to find an escape route but unfortunately these people and their kids didn’t make it in time. Instinctively, seeing the end nearing, they embraced,” Nikos Economopoulos, head of Greece’s Red Cross, said.

Kostas Laganos, a middle-aged survivor, compared the ordeal to the destruction of the Roman city of Pompeii, where thousands were incinerated by the volcano of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

“I said ‘my God, we must run to save ourselves and nothing else’.”

“We went into the sea because the flames were chasing us all the way to the water. It burned our backs and we dived into the water,” added Mr Laganos.

On Monday night, hundreds of firefighters battled the flames, which were fanned by winds of up to 100km/h (60mph).

Coastal patrol boats and private vessels picked up hundreds of those who managed to reach harbours or beaches.

Rescuers are now searching houses, cars and the coastline for survivors and victims of the fires, amid fears the death toll will rise.

Besides Poland, Italy, Germany and France have all sent help in the form of planes, vehicles and firefighters, while Spain and Cyprus have also offered assistance.

Fires are a recurring problem during the hot, dry summer months in Attica. Officials have suggested the current blazes may have been started by arsonists looking to loot abandoned homes.

Greece’s last major fire disaster was in 2007, when dozens of people were killed in the southern Peloponnese peninsula.

A man inspects a burnt car after wildfires hit the village of Mati near Athens, Greece on July 24, 2018. Photo: Ayhan Mehmet/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images