NEWS

Landowner probed over fire

A fire service investigation into the causes of last week’s catastrophic forest fires in Attica allegedly implicates a 59-year-old landowner in Grammatiko, the area where the main blaze broke out. Fire service officials yesterday submitted their report to the prosecutor handling the case, Yiannis Sakellakos, who is also interviewing members of local authorities and forestry services. The 59-year-old, who owns a large piece of land in the area of Sesi, near the site of a planned landfill in Grammatiko, is alleged to have participated in a residents’ initiative opposing the construction of the facility. The suspect, who cannot be named, yesterday told Kathimerini that he had nothing to do with the fires, saying that a fellow villager could confirm that he had been nowhere near the site of the fire when it broke out. «I rushed to the area when I heard about the fire to release a donkey I had left tied up there,» he said. The 59-year-old added that the site was not guarded and that anyone could drop potentially incriminating evidence without being seen. Prosecutor Sakellakos and Leandros Rakintzis, the general inspector of public administration who is probing the authorities’ response to the fires, both received written documents and photographs yesterday from Nikos Koukis, the community leader of Grammatiko. Koukis claims local residents did all they could to extinguish one front of the blaze, while the police allegedly failed to take any action. In a related development, Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias pledged that some 20,000 hectares of forestland burned in the fires would be reforested. «There is no need to worry,» he said. «The zoning plan for Athens respects the forests.» Meanwhile, Justice Minister Nikos Dendias heralded a draft bill foreseeing the use of aerial photographs to give authorities a better overview of the likely exploitation of burned forestland. The main opposition PASOK party, for its part, called for all of Attica’s mountains to be declared national parks in a bid to ensure their protection.