Fears of grab for property in fire’s wake

As estimates of the number of houses destroyed by Thursday’s fire in eastern Attica edged up into triple figures, local officials expressed concern in Sunday’s Kathimerini about how genuine plans to ban the building of new homes on burnt land actually were. The blaze, which began on Thursday morning near the port of Rafina east of Athens, is now regarded as the most devastating ever in Attica in terms of the number of houses burnt down. Initial estimates stating the fire had destroyed 60 houses were revised upward to some 100 by yesterday. The fire is thought to have scorched between 500 and 750 hectares of land, some 350 of which was forested. Although Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis immediately said the land would be reforested – thereby making it illegal for anyone to build on it – local officials are worried this will have little effect. «We really need to have a serious discussion and re-examine the system which governs forests and town planning in order to stop this evil,» Iordanis Loizos, the mayor of Nea Makri – one of the affected areas – told Sunday’s Kathimerini. The government and fire brigade, as well as local officials and residents, have claimed arsonists started the fire so they could burn down trees and claim the land as real estate, since building on it, or buying and selling the land, is illegal otherwise. However, the mayor of Rafina, Andreas Kehayioglou, told Sunday’s Kathimerini that the trade in forested land is rampant and the government needs to clamp down on it. «The real fraudsters are those who sell plots which are officially recorded as forested land to buyers. They are defrauding the state,» he said, adding, «Notaries provide a public service – how can they put their signatures on documents which involve the transfer of forested land to private hands?» Over the last decade, some 14,000 hectares of forestland has been burnt in Attica and only 7,500 of it has been set aside for reforestation, prompting fears among local officials that the government will not see through its promise to ban anyone from building on land affected by Thursday’s fire.

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