NEWS

State help approved for fire victims

Residents in eastern Attica who saw their homes go up in flames last week can receive more than 6,000 euros in state aid, the government decided yesterday, but it turned its back on those who had illegally built their houses in protected forest areas. Environment Minister Giorgos Souflias said residents can apply for an immediate cash boost of 600 euros and up to 6,000 euros if their homes were burnt in the fire. Also, interest-free loans lasting up to 15 years will be available, with the government footing one-third of the bill. Last Thursday’s fire, which turned 750 hectares of land into charcoal, is considered one of the worst to hit the region in decades. Estimates place the number of homes burnt at around 100, with many others damaged. Authorities believe arsonists started the fire to turn the forest into prime real estate. Sioufas ruled out any help going to those who had already built in areas classified as forest. «I have to say that there is a decision by the State Council which is very clear,» he said. «The decision clarifies that aid cannot be given to fix damage to buildings which are in forest areas.» But Eastern Attica Prefect Leonidas Kouris said compensation claims will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, leaving open the possibility that all homeowners in the process of legalizing their dwellings may be able to apply for the aid. Greece faces the problem of forest fires every year, especially in the hot summer months. But a June report from Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University says the country has failed to take proper precautionary measures to protect its land from fire-related ecological disasters. The report, since distributed to all relevant ministries in the government, says the country’s forest protection services are poorly organized and operate well short of capacity. The report says about 1,100 forest protection points throughout the country do not operate, and the policing of forests in general is poor. Firefighters also voiced their concern at the start of summer over the lack of adequate staff employed to fight blazes. They said they need 30 percent more people (some 3,700 firefighters) to carry out their jobs effectively.