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Athens News Agency: News in English, 05-07-29

Athens News Agency: News in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Athens News Agency at <>


  • [01] PM confers with ministers on devastation caused by Rafina fire, first indications point to arson

  • [01] PM confers with ministers on devastation caused by Rafina fire, first indications point to arson

    Prime minister Costas Karamanlis on Friday chaired a wide-ranging meeting of ministers to review the situation and damages in the area of northeastern Attica devastated by fire on Thursday, which burned approximately more than 7,500 stremma of pine forestland, totally destroyed some 60 homes and 45 cars, and caused extensive damage to another 40 homes, as well as destruction fo farm machinery and livestock, according to estimates. And as teams of prefectural and local authority experts began inspections to record the damage, officials and local residents pointed to arson as the cause of the ravaging fire, given its multiple fronts, some of which were counter to the direction of the wind.

    In addition, 14 people, including firefighters, were injured in the battle with the blaze.

    At the same time, the Fire Brigade was conducting a preliminary investigation into the causes of the fire, which has tentatively been attributed to arson according to indications available thus far, while Athens First Instance Prosecutor Epaminondas Vrakatselis on Friday ordered an urgent priliminary investigation by the prosecutors' office, in tandem. According to the order, all the parameteres of the case and each and every charge regarding the conditions of the fire would be investigated, including all press reporters citing charges of arson made by the local residents.

    Karamanlis and his ministers praised the immediate mobilisation of the state machine and the coordination that enabled the fire -- which broke out in the coastal port town of Rafina on Thursday morning and quickly spread to several other areas fanned by high winds of up to 9-beaufort velocity -- to be extinguished by an immense team of firefighters and land and in the air after a herculean operation, hampered by adverse conditions, that lasted some 10 hours. The fire spread to the residential areas of Neos Voutzas, Drafi, Perivolakia, Aghia Triada, Aghia Kyriaki, Pikermi, Kallitechnoupoli, and on the border with Artemis (Loutsa), heading towards Spata and Pendeli, before being placed under control.

    The premier, who rushed to the front line of the firefighting effort on Thursday together with public order minister George Voulgarakis and other government officials, said Thursday that the burned area would be designated for immediate reforestation, and the decision was reaffirmed during Friday's meeting.

    Government sources said that the planning was impeccable and had immediate results, given that in a matter of 10 hours the devastating fire was extinguished despite adverse conditions that included nearly zero visibility due to the thick smoke from the flames, and the strong winds that fanned and spread the blaze, as well as the high waves resulting from the winds in the sea off Rafina that hampered the efforts of the firefighting planes taking part in the operation.

    The sources said the prompt mobilisation of supplementary firefighting forces from the periphery and deployment of 500 conscripts specially trained in such phenomena had also contributed to the success of the operation.

    An unprecedented force of 180 firefighters with 60 fire engines, some 600 conscripts and a 100-man team of the EMAK emergency operations squad, volunteers and local residents, aided by 8 firefighting planes and 6 helicopters dropping water and flame-retardent materials on the blaze, 20 water tankers from neighbouring municipalities, and an additional 20 fire engines with their crews that rushed to the area from the Peloponese and the Sterea region (central Greece), took part in the massive operation. Most of the force remained on the scene throughout the night, on alert for the eventuality of a rekindling of the flames, while the airborne teams resumed water-dropping at the crack of dawn to avert the prospect of rekindling.

    The emergency meeting was attended by interior minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos, development minister Dimitris Sioufas, environment, town planning and public works minister George Souflias, national defence minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos, public order minister George Voulgarakis, agricultural development minister Evangelos Basiakos, and health minister Nikitas Kaklamanis.

    Voulgarakis told reporters after the meeting that the coordination of the effort had been very good, resulting in the success of the firefighting operation despite the adverse conditions.

    Teams from the Eastern Attica Prefectural Authority commenced inspection and recording of the damage early on Friday, assisted by local authorities. The Fire Brigade's directorate for crimes of arson also commenced preliminary investigation into the causes of the fire.

    Voulgarakis said that according to indications so far, in tandem with the tentative assessments of the Fire Brigade, the fire appeared to be the work of arson, given the numerous fronts and the vact that some were running in a different direction than that of the wind, while Pavlopoulos said that those who thought they would gain even an inch of forestland with such actions were mistaken.

    Fire Brigade officials told ANA, too, that the fire was most likely the work of arson, given that it began on three simultaneous fronts at a distance of one kilometre from each other, while in the space of 15 minutes a total of 9 different fronts were blazing in the Rafina area.

    Also speaking to reporters after the meeting, the defence minister said that aerial photographing of the fire-ravaged area would commence immediately on Friday, and the aerial photographs would be made public next week so that "every citizen will be a participant, and will also be able to make sure that, where there was forest, there will again be forest", as the minister said Karamanlis stressed during the meeting.

    Once the photographing of the stricken area by air was completed, the Prefecture would immediately and formally declare it an "area for reforestation" and begin planting saplings for anti-flooding protection.

    Basiakos, in turn, reiterated to the press that "where there was forest, there will once again be forest".

    The municipalities to which the fire-stricken areas belong were accepting applications, as of Friday, by residents who had suffered losses in the blaze for an emergency benefit ranging from 230 euros to 600 euros, while on the basis of the applications turned in interest-free loans would be issued fore the rebuilding of the homes and businesses destroyed in the fire.

    The town planning ministry would also issue prefab homes to those whose main residence was burned down in the fire.

    Government spokesman Theodoros Rousspopoulos told a press briefing later that the fire-stricken residents would receive compensation in accordance with the provisions of the law.

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