NEWS

Land-grabbers seen behind last summer's wildfires

YIANNIS SOULIOTIS

TAGS: Fires, Crime

A months-long investigation by Greece’s fire service in cooperation with police authorities has found that most of last summer’s wildfires in Eastern Attica, on the Ionian island of Zakynthos and in the southern prefecture of Ilia were human-caused, set by rackets seeking to have forests reclassified as crop or grazing lands or for residential development.

According to sources inside the Citizens’ Protection Ministry, an investigation into the fires that broke out in the areas of Lagonissi and Anavysos, east of the capital, in late July and early August has uncovered evidence of the involvement of state officials in efforts to reclassify and exploit burnt land.

Investigators found official documents purportedly certifying that the area, comprising some 690 hectares of pine forest, had been burnt about 10 years ago.

Meanwhile a prosecutor on Zakynthos, where a record 167 wildfires broke out last summer, destroying 3,000 hectares of forest, last month ordered a probe into the disaster. The aim, sources say, is to expose a wide network of land-grabbers operating on the island, a popular summer holiday destination.

Charges have already been brought against five suspects.

Furthermore, investigators believe that the 2017 fires near the town of Pyrgos, where 36 people died in a raging forest fire 10 years earlier, were started by clandestine cannabis growers trying to eliminate evidence of their criminal activity.

Fire service officials told Kathimerini that the blazes systematically broke out in the wake of helicopter searches for marijuana growing operations.

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