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Greece: Poor response, planning blamed for wildfire deaths
March 7, 2019
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek prosecutors have concluded that public safety and government officials made grave errors in responding to a wildfire outside Athens last summer that left 100 people dead and dozens injured, according to parts of an investigation report shown to journalists Thursday.
The damning report follows a seven-month investigation of Greece’s deadliest wildfire in decades. The excerpts prosecutors shared catalogued blunders by the fire service, police agencies, and regional and national government authorities that led to the fire’s victims getting trapped at a seaside resort.
“The competent authorities ... through omissions, delays, lack of coordination, and lack of proper execution failed to develop an effective response,” the report stated, citing the lack of evacuation planning in an area known to be at risk for fires as a major failure.
The July 23, 2018 blaze swept through the resort of Mati, east of Athens, and other coastal areas, gutting more than 1,000 homes. Hundreds of residents and visitors fled to the sea to escape the flames and choking smoke spread by gale-force winds.
Some of the deaths attributed to the fire were people who drowned while seeking safety.
The prosecutors’ investigation, led by Athens public prosecutor Ilias Zagoraios, found firefighters failed to act swiftly to contain the fire in its early stages and their managers did not grasp the gravity of the situation. Traffic police diverted vehicles into the heart of the blaze instead of away from it, according to the report.
Prosecutors said the wildfire started as a result of a bonfire lit in a neighboring area to burn garden waste, a finding that appeared to dispel government claims the blaze was arson-related.
As a result of the investigation findings, 20 officials were changed this week with negligence resulting in manslaughter, grievous bodily, and property damage — misdemeanor offences that carry a maximum five-year prison sentence.
The indicted officials include the regional governor of greater Athens, two local mayors, the former civil protection head, and fire service officials.
The regional governor, Rena Dourou, rejected calls to resign, and said she would willingly cooperate with investigating authorities.
“Nothing will change the inconsolable grief caused by these events,” she told the private Greek station Open TV.
Fanis Karabatsakis in Athens contributed.