Minister calls on intelligence service to help hunt down ‘arsonists’

Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias on Tuesday called on Greece?s intelligence agency to help hunt down arsonists suspected of being behind wildfires that have wreaked havoc on the island of Chios and elsewhere.

?There are indications, if not proof, that the fires on Chios are due to arson and we have therefore mobilized together with the fire service, the police and the National Intelligence Service,? Dendias said, referring to three fronts on the eastern Aegean island that burned into their fourth day, destroying thousands of hectares of farm and forest land.

Dendias?s comments mirror statements made on Tuesday by a spokesman for the fire service, which, he said, is facing a ?titanic task.?

Nikos Tsongas said that there have been a total of 282 blazes in the last three days alone, with 86 breaking out on Tuesday. The number of fronts as well as the timing of the blazes, Tsongas said, suggest that they may be the product of orchestrated arson attacks. He specifically cited the case of Zakynthos, where four blazes started almost simultaneously at different points of the Ionian island.

Tsongas said that the fire service has had to focus its effort on Chios, where four days of constant blazes have razed around 25-30 percent of the island?s precious mastic trees. Recording of the damage done to the island?s mastic and other crops began on Tuesday by a team of inspectors from the Agricultural Insurance Organization (OLGA), who said that it will take approximately 10 days to fully assess the magnitude of the destruction. The Chios Mastic Growers Association, however, said that it estimates the crop damages will come to around 4 million euros.

Meanwhile, a blaze near Ancient Nemea in the northeastern Peloponnese on Tuesday closed the national highway from Corinth to Tripoli and traffic was diverted to byroads, as nine fire trucks and two water-dropping planes tried to quell the flames.

A fire that began on Monday in Troizonia in the eastern Peloponnese also continued to burn on Tuesday, as did a blaze in Gytheio, also in the Peloponnese, which began on Sunday.