Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has taken political responsibility on Friday for the deadliest wildfire in the country in a decade. Experts have warned that the disorderly construction of homes in the area has led to poor fire safety.
Greece, officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southern Europe. It is bordered by Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Turkey. Greece is considered the cradle of Western civilization, being the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, literature and drama, historiography, political science, and major scientific and mathematical principles.
A wildfire is an uncontrolled fire that wipes out large fields and areas of lands, homes and even humans. They typically originate from fires that started out of a lightning strike, human carelessness or accidents, or even arson. More than 100,000 wildfires clear 4 million to 5 million acres of land in the U.S. every year. In recent years, they have burned up to 9 million acres of land.
The Greek forest fires were a series of massive forest fires that broke out on 23 August 2007 in the southern Peloponnese peninsula. They expanded rapidly and raged out of control until they were put out in early September. They were believed to be the result of arson and negligence. Close to 500,000 people were affected and the damage was nearly 3 billion euros.
Multiple wildfires had swept across the Attica region near Athens Monday afternoon, killing at least 87 people. Countless more people were injured and nearly a thousand were rescued. Over 500 houses and cars were damaged by the fire. About 300 fire fighters and volunteers were searching the area on Friday for those still missing. It is considered one of the country’s worst fires after the southern Peloponnese disaster of 2007.
According to the Red Cross, the seaside village of Mati, 29 km east of Athens, was at the centre of the disaster. Mati, on the east coast of Attica, is a popular spot with local tourists, particularly pensioners and children at holiday camps. Experts from the University of Athens’ Faculty of Geology and Geo-environment have warned that the town had been built like a "fire trap," with poor safety standards as homes were built in wooden areas and the few escape routes to the sea were hampered by cliffs.
After a three-day national mourning period ended on Friday, opponents of PM Tsipras accused the government of failing to apologise for the disaster. “This government has just added unbridled cheek to its abject failure in protecting lives and people’s property,” said the spokeswoman for the opposition party New Democracy, Maria Spyraki. Tsipras offered contrition after Nikos Toskas, alternate minister for Citizen Protection, who is responsible for Greece’s public security services security, said that he was unable to find fault in how emergency crews responded to the blaze. If faced with a similar crisis, they would not have changed their actions.
“I have called you here today first of all to take full political responsibility for this tragedy in front of my cabinet and the Greek people,” Tsipras said. “I won’t hide that I am overwhelmed by mixed feelings right now. Pain, devastation for the human lives unexpectedly and unfairly lost. But also anguish at whether we acted correctly in everything we did.” He has promised a national plan to tackle decades of unauthorised construction, and to reform and upgrade the Civil Protection Service.
There are serious indications through satellite image analysis that the deadly wildfire and a second blaze were started deliberately, within a short time frame. As per Greek legislation, controlled or prescribed burning as a means to reduce surface fuel is not permitted. Fires near populated areas in Greece are often blamed on arsonists believed to be targeting forest land for development, but arrests are rare.
Authorities have been struggling with the identification of charred bodies. A team of Germany’s forensics specialists from the federal criminal police are in Greece to help authorities identify the dead. Coroner Nikolaos Kalogrias from a morgue in Athens said, “here, the main cause of death was burning, in most cases the complete burning of the body, so identification is very difficult."
The government had announced a long list of relief measures including a one-off 10,000 euro payment for families of the victims and offers to spouses and close relative of public sector jobs. However, many feel that it cannot quell their pain and want the authorities to assume greater responsibility for the devastation.
Our assessment is that while there was a serious lack of pre-disaster and evacuation planning on the part of the government, it is notable that PM Tsipras has accepted full responsibility. We believe that in political games of one-upmanship, such an incident is uncommon. We feel that the while credibility of the current regime under PM Tsipras has nosedived, he would still lead the country through difficult times. We believe that the Mediterranean region will be increasingly vulnerable to wildfires and natural disasters in the coming years.