Arson Suspected as Greek Wildfires Devastate Resort Areas near Athens, Killing Scores

The death toll is expected to rise; fires were still burning in several locations as the country requests international help

Wildfires raged through popular resort areas near Greece’s capital, leaving at least 74 dead and more than 100 injured, in the country’s deadliest fire season in more than a decade.

Fires fanned by strong winds broke out Monday afternoon on both sides of Athens, ripping through pine forests and towns. Tourists and residents were forced to quickly flee to beaches, where more than 800 people were picked up by coast guard and navy vessels and fishing boats.

The fires hit areas of widespread unregulated construction with narrow streets and houses mixed among tinder-dry forest, which likely contributed to the death toll. Greece’s Red Cross said the bodies of 26 people believed to be trying to escape were found near a beach, some of them hugging each other in their last moments.

Fires are common during Greece’s hot and dry summers, in part because of a lack of forest maintenance and weak zoning laws. Public spending cuts imposed during the country’s financial crisis have eaten into fire service funding and fire brigades struggle with aging equipment.

“This was a deadly mix: a mega fire, strong winds of more than 80 kilometers per hour [50 miles per hour] in an unregulated area at the peak of the tourist season,” says Yiannis Stamoulis, head of the Association of Greek Firefighters.

Even after the fires were contained, authorities said the…

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