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Bodies of 76 of 92 Greek Fire Victims Identified, Coroners Press On

August 1, 2018

ATHENS – With most of the dead unburied and coroners going through the grim work of trying to put names to the often-charred remains, the bodies of 76 of the at least 92 who died in the July 23 Greek wildfires or drowned trying to escape in the sea have been identified.

Forensic experts are still working to identify more remains recovered from the nearly-incinerated village seaside area of Mati which was overwhelmed by the fast-moving inferno and where residents had almost no warning to get out.

The Coast Guard said it had recovered the body of a woman far out at sea in the Saronic Gulf but it wasn’t identified and it was unknown if she was a victim of the disaster.

Coast Guard special operations divers recovered another body July 30 from waters off the coast of the fire area, believed to be someone who drowned in their effort to escape the flames. Identification of that body was pending.

During the blaze, hundreds of people fled to beaches, and many were forced to swim out to sea to escape the flames and choking smoke that covered past the shoreline. A massive search operation involving ship and divers looking for more fire victims in the water is continuing near the fire zone, unlike the day of the blaze when only nine Coast Guard or Navy ships were sent to help.

The fire department said coroners found some bodies were so badly burned that some body bags contained the remains of more than one person. The intensity of the heat during the fire was such that it even melted metal.

That has led the fire department to stop issuing information about the number of bodies believed to have been recovered, changing instead to relating the number of identified victims. A list of people officially registered as unaccounted from the fire for stood at eight although at one point it had been listed as high as 174 because different agencies were working at cross-purposes during a chaotic government response.

While Citizens Protection Minister Nikos Toskas earlier said indications were that arson was the cause – developers have been blamed previously for starting fires to clear forest land so they can build profitable villas because there’s no restrictions on building on burned land – the fire department said a resident on Mt. Penteli buring materials may have started it.

Fanned by gale-force winds, the blaze raced through seaside resorts that are a mixture of permanent residences and holiday homes for those living in the capital of Athens.

The high death toll has prompted strong criticism of the Greek government for not preparing enough for this year’s fire season.

The Mati area lacked good evacuation access roads, warning systems and other civil protection measures even though it was a residential area surrounded by forest and at high risk of wildfires.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)

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