Call for citizens to help out as fires burn

Firefighters continued to battle a number of forest fires around the country on Monday, following a weekend that saw more than 80 blazes break out amid scorching temperatures and high winds, as Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias called on citizens to bolster the efforts of a firefighting service that has been compromised by cutbacks.

The largest blaze reported on Monday was near Dilesi, in the prefecture of Viotia, with 20 firefighters dispatched to keep the flames from residential areas and two water-dropping planes and a helicopter helping efforts from the air. Over the weekend, when temperatures rose to 37 Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit) in many parts, more than 80 fires broke out across the country, straining the resources of the national fire service. Firefighters were particularly stretched in Attica on Saturday, when four blazes broke out almost simultaneously in different parts of the region – Markopoulo, Megara, Koropi and Thrakomakedones. On Sunday, police arrested two suspected arsonists – a 44-year-old Greek and a 21-year-old Pakistani – in connection with the blaze in Koropi.

As the search for other arson suspects continued, and firefighters continued to battle new blazes around Greece, Dendias issued an appeal to Greeks to display a community spirit and contribute to fire prevention and firefighting. In an article in Sunday’s Kathimerini, Dendias, who has emphasized repeatedly in recent months that Greece’s firefighting vehicles and aircraft are inadequate due to austerity-linked cutbacks, indicated that the state was depending on voluntary help.

“Our country needs 10 million fire lookouts who will monitor the whole country and issue timely warnings when a fire breaks out,” Dendias wrote.

The fact that cutbacks have taken their toll on the quality of Greece’s firefighting equipment does not excuse the state from its responsibilities, the minister wrote.

“Neither does it excuse from its responsibilities Greek society, which must show its concern either through collective action… or through the individual action of every citizen,” he wrote.