The fire in Mati village, some 29 km (18 miles) east of Athens, was by far the country’s worst since blazes devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing dozens. Monday’s fire was one of several that broke out in the country amid a sweltering heat wave.
Mati is in the Rafina region which is popular with local tourists, particularly pensioners and children at holiday camps. The village was devastated by the fast-moving blaze that started at about 5 p.m (1400 GMT) and caught those unaware in its path.
A Reuters witness saw at least four charred bodies on a narrow road clogged with cars heading to the safe haven of a nearby beach. Dozens of people scrambled into the ocean as the blaze raged close to the shore, and they were picked up by passing boats.
Kostas Laganos, one of several Mati residents who ran into the sea with the fire at their backs and who ducked underwater to escape the flames likened his ordeal to that suffered by the citizens of Pompeii, who suffocated to death when the volcano Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.
As darkness fell, the extent of the disaster was impossible to gauge.
Greece issued an urgent appeal for help to tackle fires which raged uncontrolled in several places across the country, destroying homes and disrupting major transport links. Greece said it needed air and land assets from its European Union partners. Cyprus and Spain offered assistance.