Greece’s deadliest forest fire in decades, a blaze that claimed 83 lives and left more than 150 injured is increasingly looking like it resulted from arson, say Greek authorities.
Public Order Minister Nikos Toskas said satellite image analysis and ground inspections provided “serious indications” the fire that broke out in multiple places within a short time frame Monday was set deliberately. “We have serious indications and significant findings of criminal activity concerning arson,” Toskas said. “We are troubled by many factors, and there have been physical findings that are the subject of an investigation.”
There are reports that police are investigating how the fire started from three different locations at the same time, on a day when a second major fire was raging west of the Greece’s capital Athens.
With the death toll expected to rise, around 300 firemen and volunteers are searching the area for the dozens of people still missing. About 500 homes were destroyed, and the fire brigade said there were closed-up homes that had not yet been checked.
Firefighters described a rapid change in the direction of the wind, which also picked up speed, and some suggested the thick covering of pine trees and a mood of panic was a deadly combination that would have been hard to combat for those fleeing the blaze. Human error is also partly to blame for the deaths, as citizens cite the lack of a government-issued warning as well as longer-term problems including poor urban planning and the impact on public services of years of austerity.
Most casualties were found at Mati, some 30 kilometers east of Athens, a small seaside resort filled with summer homes and apartments owned by retirees. A group of experts from the University of Athens' Faculty of Geology and Geo-environment said the layout of the resort had acted like a "fire trap" with access to the sea hampered by cliffs, and homes built in wooded areas with little provision for fire safety.
The study also noted that the resort had narrow roads, numerous dead-ends, and was poorly sign-posted, meaning visitors could not easily reach a nearby main road.
The government announced a long list of relief measures, including a one-off €10,000 payment and a job in the public sector for victims' spouses and near relatives.