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Costly Four-Day Blaze on Evia Likely Arson, Investigators Find

August 16, 2019

The Greek fire department’s Special Arson Section (DAEE) investigating the source of widespread forest fire on the island of Evia that burned into a fourth day on Aug. 16 to determine whether it was set reportedly has found evidence it was deliberate.

It had been common in Greece for forests to be burned so that developers could then erect homes and other structures as there’s no law against building on burned land, and memories are fresh of the July 23, 2018 widfires that killed 102 people in areas northeast of the capital city, devastating the seaside village of Mati.

Arson investigators reportedly found objects used in setting fires, such as cloths, plastic parts of jerrycans and accumulated branches and wood, with broadcaster SKAI reporting DAEE is examining evidence showing that the blaze started in three different parts of the forest and has taken 25 witness testimonies.

Authorities have also spoken with three suspects who are residents in the area, as part of the ongoing investigation. While there were no deaths reported the fire destroyed a protected nature preserve and caused the evacuation of four villages and a monastery.

As winds subsided overnight, 390 fire fighters manning 101 vehicles were able to limit the fire in a hard-to-reach canyon near the village of Platania and by the morning of Aug. 16 there were no active fronts in the area, said Kathimerini.

That came after hundreds of firefighters backed by water-dropping planes and helicopters struggled the day before to try to contain the fast-spreading conflagration that turned 28,000 hectares (61,190 acres) of pine trees into ashes.

Nearly 400 firefighters, 11 helicopters and 13 planes — including two from Italy and one from Spain sent in following Greece’s request for help — fought the blaze which broke out hours before dawn on Aug. 13.

The fire department said the night of Aug. 15 before reports of containment that the wildfire was “developing.” The most active parts of the blaze were far from inhabited areas, burning through dense pine forest in canyons hard to reach by land.

Residents gradually returned to four villages that had been evacuated on the first day, but were on standby should they be required to leave again.

A State of Emergency was declared in the area, and Greece requested firefighting assistance from other European countries. A volunteer firefighter who suffered burns underwent surgery and remained hospitalized.

COUNTRY ON FIRE

Another 39 forest fires broke out in the 24 hours from the night of Aug. 14 to Aug. 15 across the country, the fire department said, with around 1,000 firefighters, volunteers and the military tackling the blazes. Most were brought under control in their initial stages, it added.

Separately, two men — a 58-year-old and a 52-year-old — were arrested on Aug. 14 and Aug. 15 on suspicion of arson in two separate forest fire cases in southern Greece.

A 24-year-old man was detained on arson charges in connection with a wildfire in the area of Palaiohori in the municipality of southern Kynouria in the Arcadia prefecture of the Peloponnese, said Kathimerini.

The fire broke out on three separate fronts virtually simultaneously, leading to authorities suspecting it was deliberately set.

Wildfires are common in Greece during the hot, dry summer months. Authorities have repeatedly warned the public not to engage in outdoor activities that could cause fires, such as welding work, burning weeds or lighting campfires and barbecues.

Parks and forest areas are closed at times of high fire risk, and daily bulletins are issued on the level of fire risk around the country. Causing a forest fire is a criminal offense in Greece that almost never sees anyone prosecuted even when there are deaths.

New Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who desposed the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA in July 7 snap elections had criticized former Premier Alexis Tsipras’ government for a chaotic response to the 2018 deadly fires and was seen at command centers inquiring about progress in dealing with the blazes and ordering a swift report from officials.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)

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