ATHENS – What brought charges against 20 current and former Greek government officials for allegedly mishandling the response to the July 23, 2018 wildfires that killed 100 people was a report that claimed a complete lack of organization, coordination and efficiency in the country’s state services.
The three prosecutors who put the report together said they found that even without an evacuation plan – none existed – that many victims could still have saved themselves if only the civil protection system worked, Kathimerini reported on the findings.
“If the civil protection system was slightly functional and an information mechanism was activated to warn civilians of the areas under threat, they would have had time to get away before the fire or smoke got close,” said the report.
Some of the officials, as had the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, despite reports about the handling of the fire that showed utter chaos and confusion, said they were blameless although a couple were said to have essentially gone into hiding during the blaze that destroyed the seaside village of Mati.
The report said even senior ranking fire service officials did not know where the fire was, how far it had spread, who was in charge of the land forces on the ground, who was managing aerial operations or even if there was a fire in the first place.
The prosecutors said there was no central operations command center and that state officials whose job it was to handle disasters didn’t have a clue what was going. Some of the families of victims have sued over the failures as Tsipras and cohorts continued to say the government had done nothing wrong and that there were no operational shortcomings.
Most of the blame was placed on the General Secretariat of Civil Protection, the fire department, regional and municipal authorities, as well as the Civil Protection Ministry led then by Nikos Toskas, who said then nothing had been done wrong.
The suspects include Attica Regional Governor Rena Dourou, Marathon Mayor Ilias Psinakis, Rafina Mayor Evangelos Bournous, former fire service chief Sotiris Terzoudis, the current head of the fire service Vasilis Mattheopoulos – who was then Deputy Chief – and former General Secretary for Civil Protection Yiannis Kapakis, who quit in the aftermath.
Charges have also been brought against the 65-year-old man who is believed to have started the blaze by allegedly burning wood outside his home in the Daou area of Mount Pendeli but he still hasn’t been named.