Disasters & Accidents

Southern Europe fires: Greek Supreme Court to investigate arson suspicions

(Update 3: Adds Mitsotakis’ remarks)

Rome/Athens/Istanbul, Aug 9 (EFE).- A Greek Supreme Court prosecutor on Monday ordered an investigation into the causes of the massive wildfires sweeping through the country and across Southern Europe, with suspicions that the fires in Greece might have been a premeditated arson attack by criminal organizations.

The suspicions stem from the “synchronization” of the “excessive number of fires in the past few days, of unusual intensity and extent, resulting in unmeasurable damage to the environment and the country’s wealth of natural resources, buildings, fields and crops, as well as tourism infrastructure,” said Vassilios Pilotas.

The fires in Greece have resulted in two deaths in total, the latest one on Monday. Both of the deceased were volunteers aiding in putting out the fires.

Residents on the Greek island of Euboea continued to evacuate their homes as firefighters have been trying to control large fires for the seventh day in a row. Other major fire fronts across the country have been partially contained.

Spain, Cyprus, France, Egypt, Ukraine and Romania have sent firefighting planes and helicopters to help Greece contain the flames.

The fires have come amid an historic heat wave, the worst the country has seen in four decades.

Local media reported earlier that the Greek government has cut over a billion euros from fire prevention and firefighting over the past decade.

The Greek army’s air force commander, Yorgos Kumendakos, resigned Monday afternoon over the management of the extinction efforts.

Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, announced that an additional 500 million euros are to be allocated for recovery and reforestation of the affected areas.

“The scale of the disaster, especially in Euboea and Attica, darkens our hearts,” Mitsotakis said. “First of all, I apologize for any weaknesses.”

A part of the 4 billion euros the European Commission disbursed in pre-financing will be allocated to reforestation, mainly on the Euboea and Attica, the regions most affected by the blazes, he added.

At least 65,000 hectares (abotu 165,000 acres) have been torched by the blazes in the past seven days, including 46,000 hectares destroyed on Euboea, in the worst ecological catastrophe in the country, according to the National Observatory of Athens.

In Italy, devastating forest fires have been raging for days in the country’s south and on the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, where the authorities have declared a state of emergency.

Nello Musumeci, the president of the Sicilian regional government, said that the state of emergency will be in place for the next six months because of the blazes that broke out at the end of July.

At least 50 fires have erupted on the island over the weekend alone, with the Sicilian capital of Palermo among the hardest hit areas.

Two people died amid the fires in the town of San Lorenzo in the province of Reggio Calabria on August 6.

Firefighters in Turkey managed after 12 days of fierce battles to reduce the number of active fires to five in two provinces, and the blazes are not threatening inhabited areas, the Habertürk newspaper reported on Monday.

“We have fought 240 forest fires in 47 provinces. 235 are under control, work continues on five forest fires,” Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said.

Although the authorities managed this morning to reduce the extent ot the fires to a single province, Mugla in the southwest, a new fire was detected in the nearby province of Aydin at 9am UTC.

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