Arsonists set blaze

As the effort began yesterday to clean up and record the damage done by a massive fire that swept through parts of eastern Attica on Thursday, burning thousands of trees and dozens of homes, the government said that the blaze had been the work of arsonists. The fire began near the port of Rafina on Thursday morning and spread to other areas east of Athens. Nearly 1,000 firefighters and soldiers managed to extinguish the dying embers of the fire early yesterday morning, but not before it had blazed through up to 750 hectares of land, some 350 hectares of which was forested, burned down at least 60 homes and damaged another 40. Some 45 cars and an unknown number of animals were also caught in the flames. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis met with his close aides yesterday morning to assess the situation and announced afterward that the task of recording the damage would begin straight away. Military aircraft began taking aerial photographs of the afflicted area. The government said the images would be made public next week so people could make sure for themselves that nobody would build on the burnt land in the future. Karamanlis said that the entire area would be reforested, therefore making it illegal for anyone to build there. «Every citizen… will be able to check that the state carries out its promises and that wherever there was forest, trees will grow again,» he said. Meanwhile, Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis backed claims from local officials and residents that arsonists were to blame for the fire. «There are strong indications that it was a case of arson,» he said «The fires started on many fronts at the same time, and spread in a pattern that could not simply be due to the direction of the wind.» The fire brigade agreed with the minister’s assessment. An Athens prosecutor, Epaminondas Vrakatselis, launched an investigation into the cause of the fire. Local municipalities, meanwhile, began offering afflicted residents emergency payments of up to 600 euros. Those who had their main residence damaged in the fire will be given temporary prefabricated homes by the government, which promised to compensate those affected by the blaze.

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