This photo shows members of a rescue team carrying an injured woman in Mati, east of Athens, today. Rescue crews are searching through charred homes and cars for those still missing after the deadliest wildfires to hit Greece in decades decimated seaside areas near Athens, killing at least 80 people and sending thousands fleeing.
Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:
Survivors of forest fires at Mati are angry with the Greek authorities. Through outrageous lack of co-ordination at the forest fires, residents and visitors to the seaside resort were driven to disaster, various survivors said to the NOS.
When the fire came down from the hills, the main road between the village and the hill was closed, says reporter Nicole le Fever. People were forced to flee through Mati itself. There they were locked up in the street by the fire.”
“I had some friends downhill in Mati. They have been burned to death”, says a Greek survivor.
At least 80 deaths have been confirmed. Many are still missing. One of the deadly victims is an Irishman who was honeymooning in Greece, the BBC reports. While fleeing from the fire, he became separated from his wife Zoe Holohan. She is said to be in hospital with burn injuries.
By Kevin Ovenden in Greece:
Wednesday, July 25, 2018
Greece in the aftermath of the fires
Kevin Ovenden reports from Athens
GRIEF but also anger gripped Greece today as the death toll from the worst wildfires for over a decade reached 80, with scores more still missing.
The government declared three days of national mourning yesterday as the scale of the devastation in the Rafina seaside resort area just 20 miles north-east of Athens city centre became apparent.
Over 1,500 homes have been destroyed in Monday’s wildfire that ripped through the forest.
There were queues at the major hospitals in response to an appeal for blood donations. In neighbouring Turkey the health workers’ association in Istanbul contacted counterparts in Athens with offers of direct assistance.
Among the rescuers of 700 people who fled into the sea to escape the fires were Egyptian immigrant fishermen.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras described the fire as “unconventional” or “asymmetric”. It was the term used by his Tory [conservative] predecessor Costas Karamanlis about a previous blaze in 2007.
Now as then, the implication is that the nation is under attack, as in asymmetric warfare, must suppress all political division and unite.
“But this is a blatant politicisation”, says one retired firefighter. …
Trade unions and the parties of the left are pointing to the impact of privatisation and austerity on fatally weakening the country’s infrastructure, from water and forest management to the fire service.
Speaking in parliament today Dimitris Koutsoumpas, general secretary of the Communist Party of Greece, warned that the “national mourning… should not be an excuse to cover up the great responsibility of governments, including this government, over time” for the running down of infrastructure and rescue services, and for the lack of regulation on property developers.
The fire service budget was €500 million (£444m) in 2007. This year it is just €397m (£352m). Nine of the country’s ageing Canadair firefighting planes are grounded due to lack of parts, says one pilot from northern Greece.
Meanwhile, 700 firefighters have been seconded from the national force to serving the 14 now privatised airports under the deal that sold them off to the German company Fraport.
It has became clear today also that there was no emergency evacuation plan for the Rafina area, where there have been decades of unregulated building by developers.
Questions were mounting today alongside demands for the immediate rehousing of those who have lost everything.
In response, Tsipras said: “The whys and wherefores” would be investigated “when the time is right.”
For many, including survivors of the nightmare inferno, that time is now.
By Katerina Selin today:
Infernal scenes took place around the port city of Rafina. The popular seaside resort of Mati, where most of the victims lived, burnt out completely in a very short time. Pictures of charred house ruins and burnt-out cars remind one of a war zone. The fire quickly caught the houses, so that many inhabitants—whole families—had no time to flee. A reporter from the news channel Skai reported that more and more charred bodies are being discovered, including two women clutching their dead children.
Many tried to escape in their cars, but were trapped on the way by flames and ran in all directions to save their lives. Especially tragic is the fate of a group of 26 people who tried to save themselves in a field but were surrounded by fire and all burned. The rescue workers found the bodies crowded together, including families.
Others fled to the coast, but not all reached one of the beaches. Many arrived at rocks by the sea where they had to wait for rescue. A teenager jumped in panic from the cliff and was found dead in the sea.
Greek survivor Kostas Laganos described his escape at the BBC: “Fortunately the sea lay before us and we jumped in, as the flames followed us to the water. We suffered burns on our backs before we could dive into the water.”
More than 700 people were rescued from the coasts by fishing boats and ships. The media showed children, elderly, men and women wading through the water surrounded by thick, stuffy smoke or waiting on wooden chairs, in the background, clouds of smoke that were visible as far as Athens, where they laid a dark veil over the sun.
At present, over 1,000 buildings, including homes and shops, and at least 300 cars have been destroyed. Hundreds of people had to leave their belongings behind and are now without shelter. While emergency care and accommodation by the authorities were initiated slowly, the solidarity of the population was great. Many offered shelter, donated blood and helped with food. Numerous people from the larger area and several children’s camps had to be evacuated. …
Media and officials also stressed that the fact that the blazes started in completely different places at the same time suggests arson. The government has already ordered an investigation.
Forest fires in Greece are often started by criminal land speculators in order to create new building land. Their goal is to illegally build real estate on the burned forest areas, which they subsequently have approved by the authorities. They use “flexible” laws and exploit the fact that Greece is the only European country without a forest registry. Due to the high property prices, they are targeting coastal regions and the Athens area in particular. One Mati resident said to FT that already “many summer homes were built illegally among the pine woods”, increasing the risk of fire.
Greece and the politics of natural disasters. The government has persistently allowed private interests in construction, industry and tourism to be prioritised over serious ecological and safety concerns. By Kleanthis Antoniou – 25 July 2018.
Wildfires have caused dozens of deaths in Greece in the worst fires for over a decade. Here, we translate a statement from ANTARSYA (The Front of the Greek Anticapitalist Left) calling for resources to be directed towards defence against fires and flooding, and away from debt repayments and military spending.
GREEK ministers say they suspect arson is the cause of the devastating fires that killed at least 83 people in a resort near Athens earlier this week: here.
The social and political background to the forest fire disaster in Greece: here.
CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES THREATEN THOUSANDS OF HOMES The deadly Northern California wildfire that has forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes burned virtually unchecked Sunday and is now putting more than 5,000 structures at risk. As the fire raged, this retired Marine worked to save dozens of animals. [HuffPost]