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Letter from Athens: Three Years Later, No Justice for Greek Wildfires Victims

August 8, 2021

We still don't know the name of the man authorities said accidentally started the July 23, 2018 wildfires that swept across a huge swath of territory northeast of Athens, killing 102 people and nearly wiping out the seaside village of Mati.

There's been no report, not only of a prosecution even for negligence, but where the alleged investigation is –but you can start by looking in File 13 or the huge archives in Greece that hold cover-ups.

We still don't know why the Greek Coast Guard and Navy wasn't dispatched immediately and en masse to pick up survivors, some of them badly burned, standing neck deep in the waters off the village, looking out to sea for help.

It was left to private fishing boats, including one piloted by an heroic Egyptian, to go there to save people while the starry Admirals and Captains of the Greek Navy twiddled their thumbs and Greek shipping oligarchs didn't hustle some of their yachts there to help either.

When fires closed in recently on the Turkish coastal resort of Bodrum, the Turkish Coast Guard was there faster than you can say, “where the hell was the Greek Coast Guard?” Maybe Greece can hire the Turkish Coast Guard.

We still don't know why no one has really been prosecuted as a host of municipal officials and those from the then-ruling Looney Left SYRIZA bungled the response, costing lives, including twin girls who died with their grandparents in Mati.

They were huddled among 26 victims on a seaside cliff just yards away from where survivors made it into the water while Prime Minister Alexis ‘Amateur Hour’ Tsipras readied excuses.

He later took “political responsibility,” like that would bring back the dead, and one look at his arrogance lets you know he's already forgotten the victims.

After the tragedy he was so shaken he had to take a brief vacation on a yacht, the kind that should have gone to Mati, but he didn't take it to the waters there to toss in 102 flowers.

SYRIZA, of course, had no disaster response plan and fire officials have been accused of trying to cover up their failures, an investigator saying he was threatened to keep his mouth shut. None of them have been prosecuted yet.

Fires, some in the past said to have been set so that developers could build on the land – there's still no law against building on burned land – broke out again this week in Greece, hitting an area of villages 19 miles east of Patra, Greece's third-largest city, on the west coast by the Ionian Sea.

This time the New Democracy government was in charge and the Civil Protection Agency used the 112 European Emergency Number to send text messages to the residents of the villages.

Two of the them were by the sea and this time the Fire Service and the Coast Guard – along with private boats – went there to help rescue people as the inferno raged around them.

While SYRIZA kept the firefighting planes on the ground as Mati burned, this time the government sent 290 firefighters, eight planes, seven helicopters, and a Fire Service special forces boat, which helped evacuate beach-goers and others trapped near the sea, said Citizen Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis.

Within a couple of days, more fires broke out and at one point there were some 81 across the country, which officials said likely began because of a brutal heatwave – in the middle of a pandemic – but maybe that's God's plan.

But here's another plan.

You can't stop arsonists or spontaneous combustion in a dried-out forest, or people who toss away cigarettes in brush, but you can pass a law – especially when your party controls Parliament – banning building on burned land.

That takes away at least one incentive from greedy developers, and another is to raze unlawful buildings such as those erected in Mati which blocked escape routes to the sea.

But every government has instead allowed them to remain in return for a fine being paid – check where that money went too.

Adding to the tragedies of the loss of life and property, and millions of olive trees burned, is that every government never learns from the disasters, vowing “it will never happen again,” but of course it will.

It will never change because there's money to be had building on burned lands, and bribing public officials, and even when officials are charged they threaten witnesses and investigators and then all is forgotten.

In July, 2020, Kathimerini reported that a tape recording was said to show a fire chief ordered records of the failed response to the 2018 fires be buried deeper than the victims, under their ashes to make sure.

The recording and contents were in an investigative report by the newspaper, with two voices heard, reportedly then Deputy Fire Brigade Chief Vassilis Matthaiopoulos and arson investigator Dimitris Liotsios.

The voice purportedly that of Matthaiopoulos told Liotsios to “bury the probe” so that neither SYRIZA nor anyone in power would be blamed for failures that raised the death toll.

“His only aim was to force me … by threatening to commit illegal acts, to write and submit to the competent investigating authorities a false report,” Liotsios said of Matthaiopoulos. So we have one name, but no prosecution.

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