New fires burn as man held over Attica blaze

Firefighters battled new forest blazes in the Peloponnese Wednesday, just hours after a 60-year-old man was remanded in custody on arson charges in connection with a large fire on Monday night that razed large tracts of forestland and damaged several homes in Varibombi at the foot of Mount Parnitha, north of Athens.

According to police, the 60-year-old was arrested late on Tuesday while attempting to kindle a clump of branches and dry grass close to the area where he is believed to have set Monday night’s fire. Police said a jerry can of flammable liquid and several lighters were found in a car without license plates that is believed to belong to the suspect. Officers are investigating the suspect’s involvement in other cases of arson. He was to defend himself before a magistrate on criminal charges last night.

Firefighters’ efforts to extinguish two blazes in the Peloponnese Wednesday – one in the area of Pigadia near Ermioni and the other next to the fort of Palamidi which overlooks the port of Nafplio – were hampered by strong winds that fanned the flames. Later in the day both fires had been brought under partial control before they could spread to residential areas. It remained unclear whether those blazes were also the result of arson.

According to the national fire service’s arson investigation unit, there was a 57 percent increase in arrests for starting wildfires in the first half of this year compared to the same period in 2012. Last year, 73 people were detained on arson charges in connection with a total of 6,434 fires. This year, although far fewer fires were reported – a total of 3,622 – authorities detained 115 people on arson charges. In total, 248 people currently face trial for arson in connection with various wildfires in Greece.

State forestry employees were dispatched Wednesday to clear away dry brush from the foot of Mount Hymettus, east of Athens, as the risk of forest fires remained high amid high temperatures and strong winds.