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Amid Chaos, Firefighters Left Alone at Deadly Greek Fires

The National Herald

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras visits the fire-ravaged seaside village of Mati, July 30, 2018. (Photo by PM's Press Office via Eurokinissi)

ATHENS – Greek firefighters battling the deadly July 23 wildfires, the worst in the ravaged seaside village of Mati – with at least 91 killed in the blazes or drowning in the sea trying to escape – reportedly had no senior command directing the operations.

“They left us alone,” an unidentified firefighter told the newspaper Kathimerini, claiming no high ranking fire department officers were sent to the scene.

That was part of what was apparently a chaotic response to the disaster, with no evacuation plan and no central command coordination, with Citizens Protection Minister Nikos Toskas and Athens' fire and police chiefs being sacked in the aftermath.

The newspaper said that serious operational problems and bad communication hampered efforts to douse the blazes, with a lack of coordination of ground forces and ineffective communication between rescuers on the ground and in the air.

Within minutes of being dispatched to Kineta, in western Attica, a water-dropping Erickson S-64 firefighting helicopter was redirected to Pendeli, in northeastern Attica, where a new blaze had broken out but fire service officers on the ground could not communicate with the pilot of the helicopter, the paper said.

“The fire service officers could hear the pilot speaking to them over the radio, but he could not hear them so he was not dropping water on spots the firefighters on the ground were trying to direct him to,” a source said.

The fire service helicopter that was ostensibly coordinating the operation from the air ran out of fuel and had to return to base, other information revealed. Those helicopters usually carry fire service officers who can get a birds-eye view of a fire and send out orders how to respond.