NEWS

Probe hones in on fire service, regional authority officials

YIANNIS SOULIOTIS, IOANNA MANDROU

TAGS: Fires, Justice

A judicial investigation into the causes of the disastrous wildfires on the outskirts of Attica last month points to major shortcomings and mistakes by members of Greece’s fire service and regional authorities, Kathimerini understands. 

Although the leadership of the Greek fire service appears to have been informed in a timely fashion that a fire on the slopes of Mount Pendeli was spreading to the settlement of Neos Voutzas on July 23, it did not dispatch adequate forces to the area. 

According to sources, the prosecutors who are leading the probe into the fires have received testimonies that suggest high-ranking fire service officers did not heed the warnings of firefighters who called them from the scene.

In addition to the testimonies, the prosecutors are in possession of evidence showing that top fire service officers received calls 20 minutes after the outbreak of the fire as well as SMS messages warning of the serious risks posed by the blaze. 

A well-informed source who spoke to Kathimerini on the condition of anonymity, said that efforts were made to create firebreaks as the blaze approached the coast at Mati, the settlement in eastern Attica worst affected in the tragedy. However, only four fire engines were sent to the area.  

Kathimerini understands that the depositions taken by prosecutors point to shortcomings by local authority officials as well as members of the country’s rescue services. It appears likely that many of those who have testified as witnesses in the probe will be called as suspects in the coming weeks. 

As attempts to attribute blame for the disaster gather pace, the fire service issued a statement on Saturday, announcing that the official death toll from the wildfires had risen to 94. Of the dead, 11 were burns victims being treated in Athens hospitals, the fire service said. 

Describing the fires as an “unspeakable tragedy” last week, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras heralded the creation of a new agency to tackle emergencies such as wildfires and floods, integrating rescue services, research institutes and volunteer teams in crisis management.

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