With Another Death in Hospital, Greek Wildfires Deal Toll Hits 96

FILE - Flowers are placed outside a burnt compound in Mati, east of Athens, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS — The death toll from Greece’s July 23 wildfires that destroyed most of the seaside village of Mati and swept across others hit 96 after a 68-year old man died of his injuries in a hospital.
The fire service said in a statement that 13 people have succumbed to burns in hospitals where they were taken from Mati with the names of most having been released after the major rival New Democracy pushed the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA to reveal who they were.

A judicial investigation is underway into the causes of the blaze and into whether authorities responded competently to the blaze, which was Greece’s deadliest ever and the worst in Europe since 1900.

Shifting blame from the government for not having a disaster or evacuation plan in place when wildfires hit a judicial investigation reportedly said the death toll was the fault of mistakes by Greece’s fire service and regional authorities.

That was the finding, the newspaper Kathimerini said, after firefighters complained no senior command personnel came to help them fight the disastrous blaze in the village of Mati where most of the people died.

The fire service leadership had been informed that a fire that began on Mt. Penteli, whose landscape was destroyed in 2007 fires, was spreading to the settlement of Neos Voutzas but not enough firefighter were sent to deal with it.

Prosecutors are leading the probe into the fires have received testimonies that suggest high-ranking fire service officers did not heed the warnings of firefighters who called them from the scene, unidentified sources told the paper.

The prosecutors are also said to have evidence showing top fire service officers received calls 20 minutes after the outbreak of the fire as well as SMS messages warning of the serious risks posed by the blaze that went unheeded.

Efforts were made to create firebreaks as the blaze approached the coast at Mati, the settlement in eastern Attica worst affected in the tragedy but only four fire engines were sent as it turned into an inferno and people scrambled for their lives with no plan to get them out.

The report also was said to shortcomings by local authority officials as well as members of the country’s rescue services and that some who gave testimony as witnesses will become suspects in assessing blame.

Describing the fires as an “unspeakable tragedy” last week, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras – who said he took “political responsibility” but no blame – created a new emergency response agency, replaced the fire and police departments chiefs and accepted resignations from other officials, including then Citizens Protection Service Minister Nikos Toskas, who had insisted there were “no operational failures” in the response despite overwhelming evidence otherwise.