Athens, July 27: The death toll in the wildfire which swept through a once idyllic seaside resort in eastern Attica rose to 87 on Friday, according to the latest update from local authorities. Meanwhile, the government said the deadliest blaze in over a decade in Greece was most probably the result of a well-prepared plan by arsonists. The fire started on Monday.
Autopsies were carried out on 86 bodies recovered from the Mati, Neos Voutzas and Kokkino Limanaki settlements, the head of the Athens coroner’s service Nikos Karakoukis was cited as saying by Xinhua news agency. The process of identifying the dead was continuing at the police forensics labs, he said. Moreover, a 62-year-old burn victim died in hospital, the Health Ministry announced.
According to the medics, 11 of the 187 injured in the wildfire were still in intensive care because of their critical condition. Greek officials have not yet released the number of the missing as the search continued among the charred remains of homes and cars and the sea area, where thousands of people fled to escape the blaze.
Amid the pain and the agony, an investigation into the causes of the disaster was underway. “There is serious evidence pointing to criminal action,” Public Order Minister Nikos Toskas told a press briefing here, citing satellite image analysis data and “suspicious findings” on the ground inside the pine forest where the fire broke out on Penteli mountain.
The Greek officials did not elaborate, but according to a report published in the local “Ethnos” (Nation) newspaper citing Fire Brigade sources, the remains of nine incendiary devices were discovered in the area. Deputy Regional Governor of Eastern Attica Petros Philippou while speaking to a local radio “Thema” (Story) said that authorities never gave a clear notification to people to evacuate the settlement. The alarm never sounded.
During the press briefing, Fire Brigade and Police chiefs argued that due to the unprecedentedly strong winds which were blowing in the area, the flames spread 2-3 kilometres within just a few minutes and there was no adequate time to react.
Another major factor which was considered to have contributed to the disaster was the town plan which included narrow streets, dead ends and fences which blocked the escape to the sea. The town plan in Mati and in similar areas needs to be fully redesigned in order to avoid a calamity similar to the disastrous fire in the future, said Interior Minister Panos Skourletis.
(This is published unedited from IANS)