Fire official denies blame

The second-in-command at the fire service, Stelios Stefanidis, has written to Sunday’s Kathimerini to complain that he is being made a scapegoat for the authorities’ failure to get to grips with the recent wildfires in northeastern Attica. Following the devastating blazes, the government asked Greece’s general inspector of public administration, Leandros Rakintzis, to investigate how authorities responded to the fires, which began at Grammatiko late on Friday, August 21. Rakintzis was asked to wrap up the probe as quickly as possible so that the results would be known before Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis delivers his main speech at the Thessaloniki International Fair on Saturday. Sources had suggested last week that the evidence gathered indicated Stefanidis was guilty of mistakes. However, this was strenuously denied by the official, who said that the people who spread these rumors «are trying to influence the opinion of the general inspector of public administration and public opinion with regard to my supposed responsibility.» «It is clear that they are trying to cover up for other people,» added Stefanidis. «I will not be a scapegoat for all those that take advantage of the fact I maintain a low profile.» According to information obtained by Kathimerini, Stefanidis was at the site of the fire from Friday evening and was coordinating the ground forces. At 6.16 a.m. on Saturday, he asked for the first water-dropping helicopter to be sent. The fire service chief, Athanasios Kontocostas, had appointed someone else to be in charge of the aerial efforts to put out the fire but the first helicopter did not receive orders to take off until 7.03 a.m. Another two helicopters and two airplanes did not leave their base until 7.13 a.m. Meanwhile, an appeals court in the Peloponnese on Saturday issued a verdict attributing sole blame for the 2007 wildfires in Ileia, which killed 36 people and burned 5,000 hectares of forest, on a 78-year-old woman, saying that the blaze started at her house. Relatives of the victims said that they would continue their legal battle to uncover the mistakes made by authorities.