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Greek authorities find 18 bodies as they continue to combat raging wildfires

Residents watch the wildfire in Avantas village, near Alexandroupolis, in the northeastern Evros region of Greece on Monday.
Achilleas Chiras
Residents watch the wildfire in Avantas village, near Alexandroupolis, in the northeastern Evros region of Greece on Monday.

Authorities battling raging wildfires in Greece announced Tuesday that they had discovered the burned bodies of 18 victims in a town in the northern part of the country.

A spokesperson for the Greek Fire Brigade said rescuers located the victims during an on-site inspection in the city of Alexandroupolis and suspect that they may be migrants.

"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," read the statement translated from Greek.

Marija Pejčinović Burić, the secretary general of the Council of Europe, said in a tweet Tuesday that she was "saddened" by the fatalities in northern Greece. "My thoughts are w/the victims & their loved ones, & w/Greek authorities," the secretary general said.

Greece is continuing to beat back fierce wildfires that have been burning across the country for days. Several areas of the Mediterranean nation are predicted to have a very high risk of fire Wednesday, including the region of Attica, which is home to the capital Athens.

Satellite images shared by the European Union's Space Programme on Tuesday showed a massive smoke cloud stretching for more than 400 miles toward southern Italy.

Reuters reported that the fire near Alexandroupolis had forced dozens of hospital patients, including newborn babies, to evacuate to a ferry earlier on Tuesday.

Greek Fire Brigade deputy fire chief Ioannis Artophios said Monday that 63 forest fires had started in the previous 24 hours driven in part by extreme weather, including gale-force winds.

"We should never forget that fire is very powerful and all of us must be extremely careful," Artophios said in a statement translated from Greek. He urged residents to follow the instructions of authorities and avoid any behavior that could spark new fires.

Nearby countries have been helping Greece try to get the raging blazes under control.

Cyprus was sending two firefighting planes and Romania was dispatching 56 firefighters and 10 fire engines as part of the EU's Civil Protection Mechanism, which helps member states share resources during a disaster. A ground firefighting team from France had already been operating in Greece as part of the bloc's wildfire season preparedness plan, the EU said.

Janez Lenarčič, the European commissioner for Crisis Management, said the EU responded to the emergency situation in Greece quickly and thanked Cyprus and Romania for aiding in the firefighting effort.

"Greece already had by far its worst July since 2008 in terms of wildfires. The burnt area is bigger and the fires are more intense and more violent, burning more area than before," Lenarčič said.

In July, after an earlier request from Greece for assistance to combat wildfires, the EU sent the country nine planes, 117 vehicles and 510 firefighters.

In the same month, two Greek pilots in a firefighting plane died in an accident while they were working to extinguish a blaze from the air, authorities said.

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