Greek officials say 79 arrested on arson charges over wildfires

Firefighters operate during a wildfire, in Palagia village, Alexandroupolis, Thrace, in northern Greece, on Tuesday. Photo by Dimitris Alexoudis/EPA-EFE

Aug. 25 (UPI) -- Greek officials made 79 arrests connected with alleged arson claims in many of the wildfires that have ravaged the country this summer.

Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias said Thursday that arsonists are continuing to start fires around the country with several new attempts to start blazes northwest of Athens on Mount Parnitha. Hundreds of wildfires have killed 20 people this week.

"Arsonist scum are setting fires that threaten forests, property, and, most of all, human lives," Kikilias said in a briefing. "You will not get away with it. We will find you [and] you will be held accountable."

Stefan Doerr, who heads the Center for Wildfire Research at Swansea University, said that alleged arsonists have taken advantage of hot and dry conditions this summer to set wildfires that then spread quickly.

The bodies of 19 people believed to be migrants with children were discovered near the Evros region of northeastern Greece after a wildfire.

The European Union's Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic said that more than 180,400 acres burned in Alexandroupolis marking the largest wildfire ever recorded among member states.

"We must continue strengthening national and collective prevention and preparedness efforts in view of more brutal fire seasons," Lenarcic said.

Wildfires have burned more than 321,000 acres total in Greece, another EU record, according to the European Forest Fire Information System.