ATHENS, Greece—Fire officials in Greece arrested two men on Aug. 26 for allegedly deliberately setting fires, bringing the total of people arrested on fire-related charges to 165 since the start of the fire-prevention season.
One man was arrested on the island of Evia for allegedly setting fire to dry grass in the Karystos area. The fire department said the man confessed to having set four other fires in the area in July and August.
A second man, who was arrested in the Larissa area of central Greece, also was accused of intentionally setting fire to dry vegetation.
As of Aug. 25, fire department officials had arrested 163 people on fire-related charges—including 118 for negligence and 24 for deliberate arson—since the start of the fire-prevention season, government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis said.
Greece imposes wildfire prevention regulations that limit activities such as the burning of dried vegetation and the use of outdoor barbecues typically from the start of May to the end of October.
Officials have blamed arson for several fires in Greece since Aug. 18. It remains unclear what sparked the country’s largest blazes, including one in the northeastern region of Evros, where almost all of the deaths attributed to fire occurred, and another on the fringes of Athens.
Although most new fires have been controlled in their early stages, some have grown to massive blazes that have consumed homes and vast tracts of forest.
“Some ... arsonists are setting fires, endangering forests, property, and, above all, human lives,” Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias said on Aug. 24. “What is happening is not just unacceptable, but despicable and criminal.”
The official said nine fires were set in the span of four hours on Aug. 24 in the Avlona area in the northern foothills of Mount Parnitha on the northwestern fringes of Athens.
“You are committing a crime against the country,” Mr. Kikilias said. “We will find you. You will be held accountable to justice.”
Later on Aug. 24, police arrested a 45-year-old man on suspicion of arson for allegedly setting at least three fires in the Avlona area. A search of his home revealed kindling, a fire torch gun, and pine needles, police said.
Greece has been plagued by daily outbreaks of dozens of fires since Aug. 18 as gale-force winds and hot, dry summer conditions combined to whip up flames and hamper firefighting efforts. Across the country, firefighters were battling 105 wildfires on Aug. 27, with 46 of them having broken out in the 24 hours between the evening of Aug. 26 and the evening of Aug. 27, the fire department said.
In Greece's northeastern regions of Evros and Alexandroupolis, a massive wildfire believed to have caused 20 of the 21 recent wildfire-related deaths, was burning for a ninth day.
The blaze, in which smaller fires combined to form one of the largest single wildfires ever to have struck a European Union country, has decimated vast tracts of forest and burned homes in outlying areas of the city of Alexandroupolis.
On Aug. 27, 295 firefighters, seven planes, and five helicopters were tackling flare-ups that were creating new fire fronts, triggering evacuation orders for two villages, one in the Evros region, and another in the Rodopi region.
The wildfire, which has had 120 active hotspots, has scorched 77,000 hectares (297 square miles) of land, the European Union’s Copernicus Emergency Management Service said on Aug. 27.
Copernicus is the EU space program’s Earth observation component and uses satellite imagery to provide mapping data.
On the northwestern fringes of the Greek capital, another major wildfire burning for days was now limited to flare-ups and was being tackled by 160 firefighters, one plane, and three helicopters. The fire has already scorched homes and part of a national park on Mount Parnitha, one of the last green areas near Athens.
A third major wildfire that started on Aug. 26 on the Cycladic island of Andros wasn't under control on Aug. 27 as 73 firefighters, two planes, and two helicopters worked to douse the blaze. Lightning strikes are suspected of having sparked that wildfire. Flareups were also occurring in a large wildfire in the central region of Viotia, the fire department said.
With firefighting forces stretched to the limit, Greece has called for help from other European countries. Germany, Sweden, Croatia, and Cyprus have sent aircraft, while dozens of Romanian, French, Czech, Bulgarian, Albanian, Slovak, and Serb firefighters are helping on the ground.
Firefighters found 18 bodies in a forest on Aug. 22, one on Aug. 21, and another on Aug. 24. The 18 included two boys aged 10 to 15 years. Because no one was reported missing in the area, authorities believe that the victims might have been migrants who recently crossed the border from Turkey.
Greece’s Disaster Victim Identification Team was activated to identify the remains, and a telephone hotline was set up for potential relatives of the victims to call. A man reportedly trying to save his livestock from advancing flames in central Greece also died on Aug. 21.