Arson suspicions grow over fire on Mount Pendeli

The country’s counterterrorism unit yesterday joined a police investigation into the cause of a massive fire that burnt dozens of homes and hundreds of hectares of land in the northern suburbs of Athens on Thursday, as the fire service said it was virtually certain that arsonists were responsible. The blaze, which broke out on Thursday morning, was rekindled by strong winds on Thursday night before finally being extinguished early yesterday. «This is a clear case of arson,» a senior fire service official said, noting however that no device had been found. «It is difficult to gather evidence from the ashes,» he said. A senior counterterrorism official said that nothing had been found to link the fire with a possible terrorist attack. «We are gathering material in case any usable evidence comes to light,» the official told Kathimerini. Meanwhile, police were questioning a man aged around 50 whom residents had spotted near Mount Pendeli where the blaze broke out on Thursday morning. According to sources, the suspect lost his son, a volunteer firefighter, during a firefighting exercise in Halandri. Melissia Mayor Manolis Grafakos told Kathimerini that he had received anonymous phone calls a month ago, threatening that areas in his municipality would be burnt. «We did not know whether they were serious threats… but there is a lot of forestland in Melissia being eyed for construction purposes,» Grafakos said. Mount Pendeli’s new forest ranger, Alexandros Rigas, fueled suspicions of arson as a likely cause of the blaze, remarking that «land on Pendeli has great value; there are interests at stake here.» According to initial estimates, Thursday’s fire ravaged up to 900 hectares of land in Nea Pendeli, Melissia, Politeia and Kifissia. More than 50 homes are believed to have been damaged. The General Secretariat for Civil Protection yesterday warned of a very high risk of fires in Attica, the Cyclades and on several other Aegean islands