NEWS

Fire service did not brief police, Kathimerini learns, as more officials are replaced

YIANNIS SOULIOTIS, DORA ANTONIOU

TAGS: Fires, Politics

There was no communication between Greece’s fire service and the country’s police force on the night of July 23 when huge wildfires in Attica led to the deaths of dozens of people, Kathimerini has learned.

Following revelations of a deficient firefighting strategy, which led to one helicopter running out of fuel and another losing communication with ground forces, Kathimerini has seen official documents indicating that multiple calls from Attica Police headquarters to the headquarters of the fire service in Halandri went unanswered.

The claims are in writing and are to go to Athens prosecutor Ilias Zagoraios, who is overseeing an investigation into who or what should be held accountable for the fires.

The only call from the fire service to the police that was recorded that night, Kathimerini understands, was to the emergency line 100 by a fireman seeking help to rescue people trapped in a burning house in Neos Voutzas.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras pressed on Monday with an overhaul of top officials in a delayed response to criticism over the state’s response to the fires, replacing the country’s civil protection chief, the fourth change of heads in as many days.

Greece’s general secretary for civil protection Yiannis Kapakis was replaced by Yiannis Tafyllis, director of the Center for Security Studies, an Interior Ministry think tank.

His departure came a day after the replacement of Greece’s police and fire service chiefs. That move, in turn, followed the resignation of Alternate Minister for Citizens’ Protection Nikos Toskas last week.

However, despite pledges by Tsipras and other top government officials to ensure that those responsible for the catastrophic blazes of July 23 are held to account, no statements were made attributing blame or admitting to errors or shortfalls in the state’s response to the disaster.

The political opposition indicated as much in statements Monday.

“Mr Tsipras is playing musical chairs in a bid to save himself,” the spokeswoman for conservative New Democracy, Maria Spyraki, said.

“However many times he might change the roles of his associates, the responsibility for the situation in this country is his,” she remarked.

One official Monday indicated that those who stepped down are not necessarily guilty.

“Responsible people who resign are one thing, and culpable people are another,” Alternate Minister for Agriculture Yiannis Tsironis said.

“It doesn’t mean that those who did their job and resigned are culpable.”

Although initial investigations have indicated that a deficient strategy in responding to the blazes contributed to them spreading out of control, Tsironis attributed the tragedy to the repercussions of global warming and said he felt responsible “because we cannot explain to our people what climate change will bring.”

As finger-pointing over the blazes continued, Attica Governor Rena Dourou is said to have refused opposition appeals for an emergency meeting to be held to discuss what happened at Mati, the coastal settlement east of Athens that was hardest hit by last month’s fires.

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