ATHENS – With the death toll of the fires that swept a number of seaside regions in Greece hitting 79 and expected to rise with dozens unaccounted for, Supreme Court prosecutor Xeni Dimitriou ordered a probe into the causes of the blazes with indications the government had been slow to act and that there was no evacuation plan.
Many people had to be rescued by sea after fleeing into the waters to escape the fast-moving blazes, especially in Mati, near the port of Rafina north of the Capital of Athens.
The fires, whipped by heavy winds, were still burning on July 24 despite the efforts of hundreds of Greek firefighters and crews and equipment by other European Union countries and with Israel offering its assistance as well.
The charred remains of 26 people were found in a field, including relatives embracing. Four more fires were also burning after Citizens Protection Minister Nikos Toskas said it was an act of arson, commonly used by developers to burn wooded land so they can build on it later with few prosecutions in the past, including for the 2007 fire centered in the Peloponnese and others that killed 84 people, including a schoolteacher, her four children and her mother, overrun by a mountain of flame that consumed them.
Coast guard vessels patrolled the sea next to the seaside towns that were hit by the fires after rescuing more than 700 people who had fled to beaches or jumped in the sea to escape the spreading flames, said Kathimerini.
Rescue workers set up mobile units in Mati, Rafina and Kineta on to distribute food and other supplies to hundreds of people who lost their homes in the fires with no immediate report on how the government would help.
The Mayor of Rafina-Pikermi, Evangelos Bournous, said more than 1,500 homes were destroyed in the fires while some 2,100 hectares (5,190 acres) had been wiped out and the disaster renewed talk about successive governments allowing unlawful building on forestland and along the coast after it is burned.
Referring to an “unspeakable tragedy” in a televised address, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras declared three days of national mourning and said there would be an investigation “when the time is right,” and rival parties joined in giving condolences and staying away from politics.
With offers of help pouring in from other countries, municipal officials and Non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) and volunteers to put together supply chains while the Hellenic Red Cross opened bank accounts for donations to help the victims.
Social media were also flooded with appeals for food, clothing and medicine for survivors while relatives of the missing posted requests for information and health officials appealed for blood donations with volunteers going to hospitals to help.