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Fire Service leadership under fire for Athens wildfires as blames fly around

Twelve days after the deadly wildfires in Athens and the list of errors apparently committed by Greek authorities is seemingly getting longer. Fire Service, Police and Regional Government are throwing responsibilities about the tragedy with 87 dead in East Attica on 23. July 2018 on each other.

Based on fire survivors testimonies, fact is that authorities did not raise an evacuation or any other alarm and thousands of locals, visitors and tourists started to flee when they saw the flames near their homes or by word of mouth.

Media heavily criticize the “inability of the state mechanism”, leak documents and publish testimonies and quotes supporting  the bitter truth: that grave mistakes by the authorities in charge led to the disaster in an area some 30 km away form the Greek capital Athens.

In the last 24 hours, it is the leadership of the Fire Service that has come under severe criticism, with Police and the Regional Government of Attica to blame it for not timely information about the real danger as the fire was quickly coming down from Penteli Mt into the settlements of Neos Voutzas and Mati, pushed by wind blowing with intensity of up to 11 Beaufort.

Blame is also on the Greek Police for having wrongly diverted cars into the fire.

On Thursday, the chairman of the Greek Association of Police Officers Giannis Katsiamakas denounced that Police was late informed by the Fire Service about the level of danger and the direction of the blaze that started at 04:55 on Penteli Mt.

“We had no information until 06:10 pm when the fire crossed Marathonos Avenue,” he told private ANT1 TV implying that police did what it did practically without knowing   fire danger.

A day earlier, Regional Counselor Ioanna Tsoupra testified to prosecutor that the Fire Service did not know the direction of the fire.

“At 6:10 in the afternoon the fire service office in charge told me that the fire was going to Dioni and not towards Mati. That is the opposite direction,” Tsoupra is being quoted by the media.

According to radio conversations between senior police and traffic police officials obtained by Kathimerini, the police chief for northeastern Attica ordered the chief of Traffic Police to suspend traffic on Marathonas Avenue came at 6.12 p.m. on July 23, with the latter subsequently ordering diversions.

Those decisions led dozens of motorists down toward Mati, and to the fire, which crossed Marathonas Avenue  – Avenue marked yellow in the map below.

According to Prof Vassilis Digalakis of the Technical University of Crete, cars were unwittingly sent into the area by police.

Instead of turning cars back on the main road, Marathon Avenue, police created diversions and sent drivers heading both south and north towards the area about to be devastated by the fire, he told the BBC.

“Obviously they had to stop the traffic on Marathon Avenue as the cars would have run into the fire,” he said. “But instead of blocking the traffic and ordering the drivers to make a U-turn, they allowed them to seek alternative routes – and the only routes were through Mati.”

Digalakis’ remarks are backed up by a separate preliminary report by a team from the University of Athens which says efforts to evacuate Mati were disorganized and caused traffic congestion and panic.

Media blame also the Regional Government and the Civil Protection for not being prepared for the case of emergency.

However, today, newspaper Eleftheros Typos, publishes a document according to which the Regional government has asked Police to halt traffic in specific areas on Penteli Mt for 24 hours as preventive measure when there is a Civil Protection alert for Very High Risk for Fires (Level 4 and 5) in the area.

The document is dated 5. July 2017.

Locals told ElTypos they observed no traffic halt. The newspaper says that instead of suspending traffic, Police sent only patrols.

Below is the Level 4 Warning for 23. July 2018 issued by the Civil Protection a day earlier.

According to a Fire Service statement issued late on Thursday the number of dead is 87:

  • 81 bodies have been identified
  • 2 bodies remain unidentified, as have not been sought by relatives, DNA samples are available
  • 4 people died in the hospitals.

41 people injured in the wildfires are still hospitalized, ten remain in critical condition.

Short before 12 o’ clock noon Friday, state broadcaster ERT reported that one of the injured in critical condition has died. The 35-year-old woman had extensive burns and respiratory burns. The woman had fled to the sea with her 6-month old baby. The baby died in her arms due to the heavy smoke. The two were wife and son of a firefighter who left his family behind in Mati to combat the blaze.

More KTG reports on Athens Wildfires here.

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