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Politics

Greek Minister Says Instant Response to Wildfires Around Sounion

ATHENS – While Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said there were lapses in responding to some of almost 600 fires that broke out in Greece in August so far, 

Citizen Protection Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis said the fire brigade immediately went to battle blazes in Villia and Lavreotiki, near Cape Sounion.

He said that a Russian water-dropping plane was not, however, in the initial response because it was on scheduled maintenance and unavailable and needed special checking after a similar aircraft had an accident fighting Turkey's fires.

At Villia, western Attica, firefighters dealt with multiple new breakouts on Aug. 17 while the fire in Lavreotiki has been “delimited,” but had pockets of fire within its perimeter, he said, reported Kathimerini.

He said 19 airplanes and helicopters were used at Lavrio and 21 in Villia as the government has tried to avoid a repeat of complaints from residents on Evia, the country's second-largest island, that not enough water-dumping aircraft were sent to blazes that consumed nearly half its 1,422 square miles.

Firefighting forces would stat at Lavreotiki for a time to make sure there were rekindlings while the fire about Villia was said to be being brought under control as arson was suspected in the new fires.

Polish firefighters and the army were assisting alarge forces there, he added, including the mobile operations center Olympos and that both fires were being coordinated by Fire Brigade Chief Stefanos Kolokouris.

Chrisochoidis said the dry weather conditions and high temperatures would continue for some days with a high alert risk of fire in many parts of the country that has seen a near-record number of acres burned. Mitsotakis said a probe would determine where there were failures in responding.

Hundreds of firefighters in Greece backed by more than 30 water-dropping planes gained ground against the fire in a dense forest in Vilia shortly after another wildfire broke out southeast of the Greek capital in the Keratea area. 

The two were the most severe among dozens of wildfires to erupt that day, the fire department said during another hellish summer of Greek fires, leading Mitsotakis to say his New Democracy government would ban building on burned land to deter arsonists and developers.

Greece’s fire department said 370 firefighters with 115 vehicles were fighting the Vilia blaze, with air support provided by 20 water-dropping planes and 12 helicopters. That and the Keratea fire devoured an estimated 5,000 hectares (12,400 acres) of forest and farmland, mostly in the Vilia area.

Firefighters were also still trying secure the boundaries of major blazes in a national park north of Athens and on the Greek island of Evia. Others, including 40 Austrian firefighters, were fighting two major fires in the southern Greek region of the Peloponnese.

Arson has been suspected as the cause of some fires. Police announced they had arrested two people on suspicion of setting two fires, both of which were quickly extinguished. 

No names were given just as happened after the July 23, 2018 wildfires that killed 102 people northeast of Athens and nearly wiped out the seaside village of Mati. Authorities said a 65-year-old man accidentally started the fire when he was burning brush but there's been no report of any prosecution.

The two new arrests included a 54-year-old Greek man who allegedly set fire to papers and dry vegetation near a village west of Athens. The second case involved a 29-year-old foreign woman whose nationality was not released. She is accused of setting dry leaves alight in a square in Athens.

Most of the fires were blamed on climate change, a brutal heat wave that turned woods into tinder boxes, arson, uncleared brush and unlawful dumping in forest areas that have seen greater development and homes.

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

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