NEWS
25/07/2018 11:23 BST | Updated 25/07/2018 14:53 BST

Greek Wildfires Death Toll Rises To 79 As It's Revealed British Man Is Among Those Injured

The bodies of 26 people were found embracing on top of a cliff.

A British man is among those receiving treatment in hospital after wildfires devastated Greece this week, claiming dozens of lives.

The Foreign Office has confirmed the man and his family are receiving support from the government.

A newly-married Irish couple on their honeymood have also been caught up in the wildfires.

It comes as the death toll from the blazes close to Athens, which have raged since Monday, rises from 74 to 79 people. 

At least 187 people, including 23 children, have been injured. The number of people unaccounted for is still unclear.

Rescue crews are searching through charred homes and cars for those missing after the wildfires caused thousands to flee the area.

A British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) spokesperson said: “Our thoughts are with all those affected by the wildfires in Greece.

“We are in contact with the Greek authorities about any request for assistance that Greece might have and would look to help where we can, and are assisting British people who require our help.”

ANGELOS TZORTZINIS via Getty Images
A photo taken on July 25, 2018 shows cars burnt following a wildfire in the village of Mati, near Athens.

The FCO spokesperson added: “Our consular staff are assisting a British man and his family following his hospitalisation in Greece. They have visited him in hospital to check his welfare, and remain in contact with the Greek authorities.”

Zoe Holohan and Brian O’Callaghan-Westropp, who got married at Clonabreany House in Kells, Co Meath, last Thursday, became separated as they tried to escape the fires in the coastal town of Mati while on their honeymoon.

Holohan, who works in advertising for the Sunday World, is in hospital after suffering burns to her head and hands, but her husband has not yet been found.

The couple, who live in Dublin, were travelling in a vehicle when they were forced to flee.

Holohan was able to escape to a nearby beach and was admitted to hospital on Tuesday night. It is understood O’Callaghan-Westropp’s family are travelling to Greece.

Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs said it is providing consular assistance to a number of Irish people who have been caught up in the fires, but would not give details about specific incidents.

Handout/ PA
Newlywed Zoe Holohan is being treated in hospital for burns to her head and hands.

A group of 26 people were found dead on top of a cliff on Tuesday near the community of Mati, the worst-hit area near Rafina, about 30 miles west of Athens.

Red Cross rescuers said they appeared to be families or groups of friends, because they were found hugging in threes and fours.

The group, which included children, were are believed to have ended up there trying to search for an escape route.

“Instinctively, seeing the end nearing, they embraced,” the head of Greece’s Red Cross, Nikos Economopoulos, told Skai TV.

The lucky ones were able to leap off the cliffs to survive, or rush into the sea from the beach.

“We went into the sea because the flames were chasing us all the way to the water. It burned our backs and we dived into the water,” said Kostas Laganos, a middle-aged survivor, Reuters reports.

He compared the ordeal to the destruction of the city of Pompeii, where thousands were incinerated by the volcano of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. “I said ‘my God, we must run to save ourselves and nothing else’.”

There has been no official indication of how many people might be missing, but relatives of those reported missing have posted photographs of their loved ones online. 

Boats have been combing beaches for any remaining survivors and tourists were evacuated from hotels in Mati.

Alkis Konstantinidis / Reuters
A man holding a dog pushes an inflatable boat as locals are evacuated during a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens.
ANGELOS TZORTZINIS via Getty Images
Rescuers and volunteers help local people evacuate the village of Mati during a wildfire near Athens.

Hundreds of people abandoned cars and fled to nearby beaches, which were evacuated hours later by coastguard and private boats.

Dozens swam out to sea despite rough weather to escape the intense heat and choking smoke.

The Times reports that some of the tourists who were rescued on coastguard vessels said they were British and were seen carrying suitcases and backpacks as they were taken to the nearby port of Rafina.

More than 280 firefighters are still in the area north east of Athens, dousing the remaining flames to prevent flare-ups.

Another 200 firefighters are tackling a second forest fire west of Athens, where local authorities pre-emptively evacuated three nearby communities overnight, according to the fire department.

Alkis Konstantinidis / Reuters
People look inside a burnt car following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece.

Fuelled by 50mph winds that frequently changed direction, the fires spread at speeds that surprised many, trapping hundreds on beaches and cutting off escape routes.

All the casualties appeared to be from the fire near Rafina, a popular seaside area that is a mix of permanent residences and holiday homes. The blaze broke out on Monday afternoon during a hot, dry spell but its cause was not immediately clear.

Aerial photos showed charred swathes of forest and homes.

Alkis Konstantinidis / Reuters
Firefighters carry a stretcher filled with body bags, following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece.

Three days of mourning have been declared by Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras.

Hospitals have treated 187 people, mostly for burns, with 10 listed as being in a serious condition.

Survivors have spoken out about how rapidly the fire spread.

“We couldn’t see any fire. The fire came suddenly. There was so much wind, we didn’t realise how it happened,” said Anna Kiriazova, 56, who survived with her husband by shutting themselves in their house instead of trying to flee through the flames, the Press Association reports.

She said they doused their house in the Mati area, near Rafina, with water from a garden hose, and credited the fact that their window frames were metal instead of wood for their home being spared.

“We shut ourselves in the house, we closed the shutters, we had towels over our faces. The inferno lasted about an hour. I have no words to describe what we lived through.”

Alkis Konstantinidis / Reuters
A local walks on a burnt slope following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece.

Her 65-year-old husband, Theodoros Christopoulos, said the couple decided to take shelter in their home because the narrow roads outside were jammed with cars.

“There was a great panic because the whole street was blocked by cars,” he said. “Shouting, hysteria, they could see the fire was coming with the wind. It already smelled a lot, the sky was black overhead and in no time at all the fire was here.”

The inferno is Greece’s deadliest since fires devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing dozens.

Cyprus, Spain, Italy, Croatia and Portugal offered assistance after Greece said it needed air and land assets from European Union partners.