After Fires, Greece Orders Demolition of 3,185 Unlawful Buildings

In this Thursday, July 26, 2018 photo, a burnt post box and bell outside a damaged house in Mati, east of Athens. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS – Blaming unlawful construction for a deadly fire in the seaside village of Mati – allowed to bring in money through fines giving a retroactive license – Greece’s government is now ordering the razing of 3,185 buildings that were unlawfully built in forests and along the coastline in the Attica region encompassing the country’s Capital.

There have been similar orders of a smaller nature in the past, especially on Athen’s beachfront where unlawful tavernas and beach businesses thrive, but they were never carried out and it was unclear whether the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition would proceed once the disaster that killed at least 92 people is old news.

Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, leader of the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are junior partners in the government, went to Mati after the fires and was confronted by angry survivors who lost their homes and loved ones and blamed the government for not having a disaster or evacuation plan and leaving them at the fire’s mercy.

He blamed them for building unlawfully along the coastline near wooded areas, calling it a crime without mentioning every government has allowed it and then assessed a fee to bring in money and not alienate voters.

But the scope of this tragedy was apparently too much even for political considerations and the government said the demolition order – it wasn’t said when that would begin – concerns for now only buildings where there have been previously unforced orders to raze them.

In the municipalities of Rafina-Pikermi and Marathonas alone, where the fire did the most damage and loss of life, more than 19,000 stremma (4,695 acres) and 68,000 stremma (16,803 acres) of forest land is covered by illegal construction, said Kathimerini, as people were allowed to build without permits or any action taken against them.

No cause for the fire has been given but in previous fires, including those that killed many people, developers were said to be behind a scheme to burn the land so they could erect profitable villas as there’s no law against building on burned land, giving an incentive to do so.

More than 1,000 burned buildings inspected by engineers after the wildfire must also be demolished. Environmental groups said the fire was the deadliest in the country’s history and the worst in Europe since 1900, scorching 17,000 acres of forestland and residential areas.