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Arson Suspected in Greek Wildfires, But Authorities Disagree

ATHENS – With a dozen arrests for arson after almost 600 fires consumed huge swathes of forest and land around Greece, some government and municipal officials said they believe more were being set but others said that's not the case.

Suspicions of arson were raised after a second round of fires in Vilia in western Attica and Karystos  on the south of the island of Evia that was devastated by blazes, both contained by firefighters.

The fire in Vilia broke out only a week after a first that burned 9,400 hectares (23,228 acres) and proved difficult to control as it roared through the area, the second happening in a pine forest that hadn't been touched by flames.

In Karystos, two fires broke out, the first at 3.20 a.m. on Aug. 22 in the area of Metochi and the second at 1.30 a.m. on Aug. 23, near Marmari, said Kathimerini in a report on the debate over arson.

With so many fires simultaneously, almost hourly during the worst time, a feeling has grown among some officials that some, if not many, had to be set because it happened so fast in so many places.

Arson has been a tool leading to development in burned areas but Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis became the first to say that wouldn't be allowed anymore and that burned land would be reforested, taking away an incentive to burn for profit.

The Deputy Regional Governor of Attica in charge of civil protection, Vassilis Kokkalis, told the newspaper that the second fire in Vilia was the work of arsonists, noting it started simultaneously at two points at a distance of 200-300 meters (656-984 feet) from each other. He said that in the settlement of Profitis Ilia at least five houses were severely damaged. 

The Deputy Mayor of Vilia, Panagiotis Koloventzos, added that “someone  is intent on setting fire to Vilia. “The incident requires a serious investigation,” he added. 

But the report added that other sources not identified don't think arson was involved in Vilia because one of the fires broke out on the side of the road in daylight while firefighters and police officers were patrolling the area.

But an unnamed official of the Citizens’ Protection Ministry said the recent fires were set, unlike most of those earlier in the summer blamed on a brutal heat wave creating tinder box conditions, poor forest management and unlawful dumping in woods.

Some police officials told the paper that they had no evidence to confirm that the spate of new fires were the worst or arsonists working separately or as part of a ring to clear land. 

The Mayor of Karystos, Lefteris Raviolos however said that two fires broke out during the night within 24 hours of each other while strong winds were blowing as they had during a rage of earlier fires on Evia.

A veteran fire official though said that  it is common in the area of Karystos to have fires on days with strong winds due to the presence of high-voltage power cables.

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