All the residential settlements hit by recent fires had in the last few decades been constantly expanding on forestland and other natural expanses, according to the findings of a joint study by conservation group WWF Hellas and Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University that were released yesterday. Comparing satellite photographs, the study shows that the prefecture of Attica lost a total of 18,418 hectares of pine forest between 1987 and 2007. In the same period, Attica’s settlements grew in size by 19,192 hectares, of which approximately 7,000 hectares had formerly been areas covered by low vegetation and at least 500 hectares had been forestland. According to the study, the expansion of settlements at the expense of forestland is clearly demonstrated by the appearance of entirely new clusters of houses in areas that had previously been covered by forest. Meanwhile, the findings of a probe into the fire service’s response to last week’s devastating forest fires in eastern Attica were expected to be handed to Alternate Interior Minister Christos Markoyiannakis late last night or early this morning. The probe has been carried out by Leandros Rakintzis, the general inspector of public administration. Speaking to Kathimerini yesterday, an Interior Ministry official said that no big surprises were anticipated in Rakintzis’s report, which is expected to attribute responsibility for the blazes to almost the entire leadership of the fire service. The official said however that there was deep concern at the ministry regarding the next steps to be taken, for example, whether changes should be made in the fire service leadership, particularly in view of the growing likelihood of early elections being called.