Debts put fire service readiness at risk

As firefighters battled a large blaze for the second day in Athens’s coastal suburb of Ano Glyfada yesterday, sources revealed that lack of funding and bureaucracy have delayed the leasing of water-dropping helicopters as the fire season gets under way. Around 200 firefighters struggled to contain a blaze that had started on the slopes of Mount Hymettus early Monday afternoon and spread toward the suburb of Ano Glyfada, threatening dozens of homes. The fire, which had eased on Monday night, picked up early yesterday as winds became stronger. There had been no reports of any injuries or any properties damaged by late yesterday but firemen said the blaze had razed a large swath of forestland and was still burning. New fires in Koropi, southeastern Attica, and near the port of Lavrion, had been brought under partial control by late yesterday. A blaze that had broken out on Evia on Monday was also under control. Meanwhile, sources told Kathimerini that authorities owed the two private firms Ericsson and Scorpion some 20 million euros for the leasing of water-dropping aircraft last year. Roughly 10 million euros of a 29.2-million-euro bill is said to have been paid earlier this month but the outstanding amount has reportedly resulted in just two of the 13 helicopters needed for this year being leased. A bureaucratic hitch in the paperwork between authorities and one of the firms reportedly created further delays. News about the delay emerged after criticism that only two helicopters were sent to tackle the Mount Hymettus blaze. A top fire service official yesterday insisted that the response was adequate, noting that the first fire engine was on the scene within five minutes of the blaze breaking out.