NEWS

Greek fire damages over 2,000 homes, 500 of them gutted

COSTAS KANTOURIS, DEREK GATOPOULOS

The damaged living room of a house in Mati, east of Athens, Friday, July 27, 2018. Greek authorities said Thursday there were serious indications that a deadly wildfire that gutted a vacation resort near Athens was started deliberately, while experts warned that the devastated coastal town had been built like a "fire trap," with poor safety standards and few escape routes. [Thanassis Stavrakis/AP]

TAGS: Fires

More than 2,000 homes were damaged in this week's deadly wildfire near Athens and roughly a quarter of them will have to be demolished, Greek officials said Friday, revealing more about the disaster that has seen the government face mounting criticism.

As the death toll from the fire reached 86, the Infrastructure Ministry said it has inspected some 2,000 damaged homes in the fire-hit Rafina area, 30 kilometers (18 miles) east of the capital.

Houses considered permanently unsafe were being sprayed with a red X signs, as structural inspections by housing experts were being carried out in parallel with ongoing house searches by rescue crews looking for more victims.

State coroners have completed autopsies on all the bodies recovered so far, increasing the death toll with a grim discovery. Nikos Karakoukis, head of the Athens Forensics Department, said forensic tests have revealed the remains of three extra people.

"There are parts of bones that are attributed to three people, so the number increases to 86," Karakoukis said.

It was another indication of the intensity of the fires heat, which melted the metal hubcaps of cars as it swept through the pine-forested seaside resorts with winds of up to 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph).

Germany's federal criminal police have sent a team of its forensics specialists to help in the process.

Despite the daily rising death toll, Greek government officials have refused to acknowledge criticism, including claims of poor emergency planning ahead of the country's annual wildfire season.

On Friday, however, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sought to defuse the mounting criticism of his government.

"I accept full political responsibility for this tragedy," Tsipras told a televised meeting with his cabinet ministers. "It is an obvious thing for the prime minister to do and I urge you to do the same."

Rafina Mayor Evangelos Bournous said an evacuation wouldn't have been an option, given the speed of the fire and the haphazard layout of the area, which featured small winding roads and cliffs next to the sea.

"They speak of an evacuation plan. How can an evacuation plan be implemented on a settlement (built) outside of town planning, which does not have places for people to gather?" he said. "The evacuation plan was that everyone tried to leave all together and they got trapped on the coastal road."

Authorities have said the fire moved with such speed that ordering an evacuation of the area could have resulted in even more casualties.

They have also said that the deadly fire may have been the result of arson, and are investigating the source of the fire. [AP]

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