NEWS

Fires rage as arson probes intensify

Firefighters on Monday were struggling to contain several blazes across the country — in Thessaloniki, Halkidiki, Arcadia, Laconia and Messinia — as authorities continued their search for the suspected arsonists behind the most catastrophic of a spate of fires in August.

A 24-year-old Greek man who has allegedly admitted to starting 14 fires in the north of Chios, but not the massive blaze that raged in the southern part of the Aegean island for nearly a week, was given 24 hours to prepare his testimony before an investigating magistrate. The suspect, who is the son of a fireman serving a short-term contract, reportedly admitted to starting several fires in northern Chios this summer and last year in anger at not being hired by the firefighting service.

The fire in southern Chios, which burned on several fronts for six days in a row last week, destroyed an estimated 15,000 hectares of forest and arable land, along with hundreds of mastic trees. The island?s economy relies largely on mastic — a resin used in cooking, cosmetics and medicines. Police said on Monday that a probe aimed at identifying the perpetrator behind that blaze was progressing apace.

In a related development, a 60-year-old man was arrested on Zakynthos in connection with a blaze that started on the Ionian island last Thursday.

A total of 250 people have been detained on arson charges this year, mostly as a result of neglect rather than sabotage.

On Monday, as temperatures hovered near the 40 Celsius (104F) mark and winds remained strong, firefighters battled five new blazes — in Asprovalta near Thessaloniki, Lykochia in Arcadia, Karynia in Laconia, Gallini in Halkidiki and Pylos in Messinia. In Asprovalta, the fire damaged at least three homes.