Hundreds of firefighters in Greece have been battling deadly wildfires for nearly 10 days as officials have arrested more than 160 people in relation to the fires ravaging the country.
Greece has been plagued by daily outbreaks of dozens of fires over the past week as gale-force winds and hot, dry summer conditions combined to whip up flames and hamper firefighting efforts.
More than 600 firefighters have fought 122 fires over the weekend, including 75 blazes that broke out in a matter of 24 hours between Friday and Saturday evening.
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Although most new fires were controlled in their early stages, some grew to massive blazes that have consumed homes and vast tracts of forest. So far, a fire that erupted Saturday near the port city of Alexandroupolis has become the European Union’s largest on record with 190,000 acres of land destroyed.
Another blaze has broken out near Athens threatening a national park.
Officials report that 21 people have died from the fires with 18 bodies found in a forested area of northern Greece.
What’s Causing All These Fires?
Meanwhile, Greek authorities have arrested 163 people on fire-related charges since the start of the fire prevention season, government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis said.
So far, 118 of those arrests have been for negligence, for ignoring weather alerts and acting recklessly during dry and windy conditions. But 24 people have been arrested for deliberate arson.
“You are committing a crime against the country,” said Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias.
“Arsonist scum are setting fires that threaten forests, property, and, most of all, human lives,” he told Greeks during a televised emergency briefing on Thursday. “What is happening is not just unacceptable, but despicable and criminal. You will not get away with it, we will find you, you will be held accountable.”
Two men were arrested Sunday for arson.
One of the men was setting dry grass on fire on the island of Evia. He confessed to setting four other fires in the area in July and earlier this month.
A second man was arrested in central Greece. He confessed to deliberately setting fire to dried vegetation.
Police arrested a 45-year-old on suspicion of suspected arson believing him to be responsible for starting three fires in Avlona.
Police say they have not identified a motive.
Greek authorities reinforced firefighting forces in the northeastern part of the country to help combat the fires. Germany, Sweden, Croatia, and Cyprus sent aircraft, while dozens of Romanian, French, Czech, Bulgarian, Albanian, Slovak, and Serb firefighters were helping on the ground.