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Residents flee as two major forest fires rage near Athens

Residents flee as two major forest fires rage near Athens

Some people have taken to social media and Greek television stations with appeals for information on their loved ones.

The fire has taken at least 79 lives. "People can not tolerate so much smoke for so many hours", Achilleas Tzouvaras said. Eleven of the injured are in critical condition, and the death toll is expected to rise further.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has declared three days of mourning.

The fire was burning into Rafina, with the sky above the nearby port that serves ferries to some of the Cycladic islands, turning black from the smoke.

DW's Charlotte Chelsom-Pill, who is in Mati, near Rafina, said the blaze in the resort town was now out but dozens of people were still thought to be missing.

Macedonia and neighboring Greece have been at odds for nearly three decades over the smaller countries use of the name Macedonia, which is also the name of a Greek province where Alexander the Great was born.

Sometimes fires are also started deliberately.

It was not clear how many people remained unaccounted for as boats combed beaches for any remaining survivors, with military hospitals on full alert, the Greek government spokesman said.

"We will do whatever is humanly possible to control it", he said.

The cause of the fires was still unclear, and is being investigated by an Athens prosecutor who is also reviewing the way it was handled, according to Reuters.

All the casualties appeared to be from the fire near Rafina, a popular seaside area that is a mix of permanent residences and vacation homes.

High winds spread the fire, trapping many in homes and vehicles and forcing others into the sea as they tried to escape the flames.

Both fires were fanned by gale-force winds that hampered firefighting efforts and saw hundreds of people flee to beaches, where they were evacuated by boat late at night. Halil told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The two largest wildfires - one 20 miles north-east of Athens near Rafina, the other 30 miles west of the capital in Kineta - broke out on Monday during hot, dry summer conditions. Some major highways, like the National Road, have been closed or road-blocked. The blaze has created such thick smoke that the main highways between the Peloponnese and the Greek mainland have been shut down and an orange haze has descended on Athens. "The head of state stressed that Russian Federation shared the grief of the Greek people and conveyed his sympathy and support to the families and friends of the victims, as well as wishes of a speedy recovery to those injured", the statement reads. Some people were reported to be trapped on a beach by the flames.

Over 400 firefighters have battled the blazes, along with seven water-dropping helicopters and three firefighting aircraft. An ominous cloud of black-orange smoke hung over the Acropolis hill and the Parthenon temple in Athens on Monday afternoon, but the fire posed no immediate threat to Greece's famed ancient monuments.