Wildfires continued to rage on Zakynthos on Monday as suspicions grew regarding arson being the cause of some of an estimated 80 outbreaks of fires on the Ionian island over the last few days. “Such a high number of fires on one island in such a small period of time cannot be a coincidence,” said Zakynthos Mayor Pavlos Kolokostas.
On Monday, almost 200 firefighters, backed by 57 fire engines and three water-dropping airplanes, were trying to put out a large blaze on the northern side of the island, near the village of Maries. The front was several kilometers long, posing a tough challenge for authorities.
The fire service said that it was also tackling blazes in six other areas of the island. Two had been burning since Friday.
It was also announced that a team had arrived on the island to investigate the cause of the fires. The fire service said that the number of fires on Zakynthos this summer was “unusually high.” Sources said that three people had been detained on suspicion of arson.
Experts point out that the muddled property rights on the island are often the root cause of the fires.
“After the end of British rule on the Ionian islands, the public land was not handed over to the Greek state, which led to any disputes between the state and individuals over disputed land almost always being decided in favor of the individuals,” Andrianos Gourbatsis, a retired fire service official with much experience of arson investigations, told Kathimerini. He added that these land disputes in combination with the absence of a forest registry leads to arson.
Gourbatsis said that the fact that much of the forestland is not in public hands means that the necessary fire prevention work is not carried out, leading to the creation of tinder-box conditions in some places.
Speaking to Kathimerini, the head of WWF’s Greek branch, Dimitris Karavellas, highlighted the growing signs of climate change behind many of the wildfires across Europe. “We may have had a lot of fires in Greece this year but they were fewer compared to those in France, Spain and Portugal,” he said.