Almost One Year After Deadly Fires, Greece Plans Unlawful Building Stop

FILE - Burned houses are seen through a gutted window frame one month after a deadly wildfire tore through holiday homes near Athens, on at the seaside area of Mati, on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS – With the one-year mark approaching of the July 23, 2018 wildfires that killed 103 people in areas north of Greece’s capital, nearly wiping out the seaside village of Mati, the Environment Ministry said it finally has a plan to prevent unlawful buildings that block access to the sea and escape routes from conflagrations.

The death toll, which a TV documentary said the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA government tried to hide and downplay after not having either a disaster plan or evacuation plan in place and a chaotic response to the fires as they roared, was blamed on the unlawful construction that cut off escape to the seas.

Visiting the devastated scene of Mati before taking off on a yacht vacation, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras promised to immediately have razed more than 1,100 unlawful buildings in the Attica prefecture, but didn’t.

Residents also protested he reneged on promises to help rebuild the village over which the fire roared so fast that some said the sky was on fire too.

Some 300 houses destroyed by the fires in Mati have received permits to rebuild and are slated to receive state funding for the purpose, Infrastructure Ministry General Secretary Maria Kleanthi told a meeting of local authority officials and residents.

For those beyond repair, some 120 are slated for demolition and another 120 are to be razed in the coming weeks, Kleanthi said, with the remaining unstable buildings first stripped of toxic asbestos before being razed.

The Environment Ministry’s plan focuses on some 7,900 hectares (19,521 acres) of land covering Mati and Rafina – two of the areas that were the worst hit by last July’s fires, said Kathimerini.

The plan would set restrictions on unlawful buildings that successive governments have allowed, and then issued small fines, so as not to antagonize voters and without moving to demolish unlawful tavernas and beach clubs blocking access to public beaches, with people charged to use them.

There would also be a review of some local roads while seeking to protect adjacent forestland and improve residents’ access to coastal areas by removing some unnecessary walls and fencing, the report also said.