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Politics

Mitsotakis Says Mistakes Made Dealing With Greece’s Wildfires

ATHENS – Although Greece was overwhelmed with hundreds of fires around the country, stretching resources to deal with them, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his government will review lapses in responses.

Some residents, especially on Evia, Greece's second-largest island, complained there weren't water-dumping aircraft or enough firefighters as the flames spread but officials said there wasn't enough to spread around.

Greece had to call in aid from 22 other countries as the fires spread in what Mitsotakis called an ecological disaster and said that his government will review how they were battled.

In a news conference, he acknowledged failures and said that those who lost their homes and businesses would be helped with a 500-million euro ($587.02 million) relief package to help them recover.

He insisted responsibility “will be assigned” said Kathimerini, and shortly after did a minor revision to his Cabinet as he said the responsibility is both individual and collective and also concerns “structures and processes.”

“The government has shown that it does not hesitate to acknowledge its mistakes… we did what was humanly possible, but in some cases it was not enough,” he said. 

The fires were blamed on a combination of a brutal heat wave that created tinder box conditions for spontaneous combustion, uncleared forests, arson and unlawful dumping in forested areas. 

He also became the first premier to ban building on burned land which has been allowed for years, which gave developers an opportunity to profit and an incentive for arson to clear forests.

“The climate crisis – I’d like to use this term, and not climate change – the climate crisis is here,” he said, adding that he was ready to make the “bold changes,” including establishing a Special Forest Operations Unit consisting of 500 people. “This can be done within 2022,” he said, the paper reported.

Unlike the July 23, 2018 wildfires northeast of Athens that killed 102 people and nearly razed the seaside village of Mati, for which the then-ruling Radical Left SYRIZA was blamed for not having a disaster response plan, Mitsotakis noted there was one casualty this year,  38-year-old volunteer Vasilis Filoras, hit by a falling pole.

And while then-premier and leftist leader Alexis Tsipras didn't send the Coast Guard or Navy to rescue people sitting in the sea off Mati, Mitsotakis sent ferry boats to rescue people off Evia where villages were threatened.

He said that was necessary despite criticism, including from some residents ordered out who wanted to stay and fight huge conflagrations with garden hoses and branches, risking their lives to save their property.

“I find it difficult to understand how one can criticize a policy whose ultimate goal is the protection of life. I find the speculation mainly on social media regarding evacuations as vulgar,” he said.

“The citizens will not be helpless. The state will be by their side,” he noted, making special reference to the commission set up for the restoration of northern Evia island.

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