As finger-pointing and recriminations continue over who or what was to blame for last month’s disastrous wildfires in Attica, Kathimerini has learned that serious operational problems and bad communication hampered efforts to douse the blazes.
On the fateful night of July 23, there appeared to be a lack of coordination of ground forces and ineffective communication between rescuers on the ground and in the air.
Within minutes of being dispatched to Kineta, in western Attica, a water-dropping Erickson S-64 firefighting helicopter was redirected to Pendeli, in northeastern Attica, where a new blaze had broken out.
However, Kathimerini has learned the fire service officers on the ground could not communicate with the pilot of the helicopter.
“The fire service officers could hear the pilot speaking to them over the radio, but he could not hear them so he was not dropping water on spots the firefighters on the ground were trying to direct him to,” a source with knowledge of the events that night told Kathimerini.
Another problem was that the fire service helicopter that was ostensibly coordinating the operation from the air ran out of fuel and had to return to base, Kathimerini has learned.
The aircraft was given the order to leave Kineta but ran out of fuel when it reached Rafina and had to leave before it could contribute to the operation.
Sources said such helicopters usually carry fire service personnel with an overview of the situation, noting that Mati, the coastal village in eastern Attica that was worst hit by the fires, did not benefit from such strategic planning.
Further, firefighters who battled the blazes on the ground claimed no senior firefighting officers were dispatched to the scene to oversee the operation. “They left us alone,” one firefighter said.
The fires last month killed scores of people and ravaged thousands of hectares of forestland. Between 2007 and 2017, more than 56,000 hectares (a third of Attica’s forestland) was destroyed in wildfires, according to data from the European Commission and Greece’s Environment Ministry.
Authorities are this week to start demolishing illegally built properties in forestland and on the coast such as the homes that were burnt in last month’s wildfires.