Thousands of refugees and migrants fled the flames that tore through a camp under a coronavirus lockdown, on Greece’s island of Lesbos.
The fire broke out at the overcrowded Moira camp just after midnight Tuesday, fire brigade officials said.
By early Wednesday morning, most of Moria had been reduced to a smouldering, mangled mass of burned shelters, with a few people searching the debris for their possessions.
There were no reports of injuries or fatalities, while the cause of the blaze which burned the tents and containers refugees had been living in was not immediately clear.
Moria was “probably totally destroyed”, Migration Ministry official Manos Logothetis told the state-run Athens News Agency.
Initial reports suggested fires broke out at different locations in the sprawling camp after authorities tried to isolate a number of individuals who tested positive for COVID-19.
“The fire is still raging, the camp has been evacuated. All these people are on the national road towards Mytilini. There are police out who are not letting them through. These people are sleeping left and right in the fields,” Panagiotis Deligiannis, a witness from Moria, told Reuters news agency.
At least 25 firefighters on 10 engines, aided by police, battled the flames both inside and outside the facility, the fire brigade said, adding that the firefighters had been pushed back by camp residents during their efforts.
People were seen leaving the camp, carrying their belongings.
“The situation was out of control,” policeman Argyris Syvris told Open TV, adding that police had been forced to release about 200 people held in a separate quarter of the camp who were to be repatriated to their countries.
The Moria facility, which hosts some 13,000 people – more than four times its stated capacity – has been frequently criticised by aid groups for poor living conditions.
It was placed under quarantine last week after authorities confirmed that an asylum seeker had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Confirmed infections have risen to 35 since then.
Lesbos, which lies just off the Turkish coast, was on the front line of a massive movement of refugees and migrants to Europe in 2015 and 2016. Due to the pandemic, since March 1, all arrivals to the island have been quarantined away from the camps.
In the Moria camp, aid groups have warned that physical distancing and basic hygiene measures are impossible to implement due to the living conditions.