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Greece rescues 25 migrants from deadly Evros wildfire

By Alexandros Avramidis

EVROS, Greece,/ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece on Friday rescued a group of 25 migrants trapped in a wildfire which has been burning in the northeastern region of Evros for almost two weeks, authorities said.

The wildfire in Evros, Europe's deadliest this summer, burned for a 14th day after killing at least 20 people, destroying homes and livelihoods and scorching lush forests.

All but one of the dead in the Evros fire are believed to have been migrants who crossed over from Turkey, evading police in the forest. Evros is a popular crossing into the European Union for thousands of migrants and refugees every year.

Aircraft and hundreds of firefighters battled the blaze in the Dadia Forest amid fast-changing winds on Friday.

A Reuters video showed migrants sitting on a road next to a field, with trees engulfed in thick grey smoke in the background, before authorities drove them away on an open-backed truck.

"While operating between the villages of Giannouli and Dadia, 25 people were found and taken to a safe place by the fire brigade and police," Greek fire brigade spokesperson Ioannis Artopoios told Reuters.

The migrants were all male and said they were from Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, a police official said. The official said they were arrested.

The Copernicus Emergency Management Service said the Evros fire had ravaged at least 812.6 square kilometres (313.8 square miles), larger than New York City's 778.2 square kilometres (300.5 square miles).

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said at least 30% of Greece's protected Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest had been burned.

Summer wildfires are common in the Mediterranean nation but the government has said that extremely dry, windy and hot conditions that scientists link to climate change have made them worse this year, forcing thousands of evacuations.

Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Thursday that Greece would launch drones, install forest temperature sensors and hire more staff to improve firefighting after criticism from climate activists.

Switzerland said on Friday it will dispatch three army helicopters and personnel to help firefighting in Evros.

(Additional reporting by Lefteris Papadimas; Writing by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Andy Sullivan)