We suspect arson, Greek minister says of wildfire

Aaron Brown
July 28, 2018

Drone footage of Mati in Greece captures the devastation caused by wildfires that have killed more than 80 people. "In other words, cars became trapped and people abandoned them trying to flee going towards the sea".

"We have serious indications and significant signs suggesting the criminal actions of arson", he told a news conference on Thursday, adding the suggestion was backed by testimonies gathered by police.

The cause of the fire is still unclear, but authorities, including an Athens prosecutor, were investigating how it started simultaneously from three different locations and the way it was handled.

A expert marks with paint a burnt house following a wildfire at the village of Neos Voutzas, near Athens. (Reuters/Alkis Konstantinidis) Melted aluminium from cars is seen on the ground following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens.

With the toll from Greece's deadliest wildfire in decades expected to rise further, about 300 firemen and volunteers were still combing the area on Thursday for dozens still missing.

Defense Minister Panos Kammenos was heckled as he visited the coastal region of Mati, where most of the fatalities occurred. "You left us to the mercy [of God]".

One woman was still looking for her sister.

Rafina Mayor Evangelos Bournous said one in four houses had been destroyed in the blaze and half of the others partially damaged.

A motorcyclist looks at smoldering shrubbery on a road near Kineta west of Athens on Monday
A motorcyclist looks at smoldering shrubbery on a road near Kineta west of Athens on Monday

"There are testimonies but I can not say anything more now", Toskas added at a news conference in Athens, which was attended by government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos and fire and police chiefs. Where are they? They went somewhere.

Experts have said that a mix of poor urban planning, including a lack of proper access routes and the construction of too many buildings next to combustible forest areas, contributed to what were Europe's worst wildfires this century.

Cars were swept away after a sudden downpour on northern Athens.

Outside the coroner's service in Athens, the mood was grim as relatives of victims arrived to submit information and blood samples which could assist identifications.

"This is a hard process, more hard than other mass disasters we have dealt with", said coroner Nikolaos Kalogrias, adding that the bodies of most of the victims were completely charred. Nearly half of the 2,500 homes surveyed by experts after the fire are uninhabitable, the government said.

Families of victims will receive a one-off €10,000 payment, while their spouses and near relatives were also offered public-sector jobs. But for many, that was not enough to ease the pain.

"What we're doing is just a drop in the ocean, but I couldn't continue my holiday as if nothing had happened", said 17-year-old Photini, wearing a paper mask to protect against the smell of smoke which still envelops the burned village.

With many people still unaccounted for, a harrowing account emerged from the head of the Greek forestry federation, Gorgeous Papacies, who said fire-fighters had focused their resources on a separate fire to the west of Athens, leaving the East Attic coast exposed.

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