Fire department officials in Greece arrested two men on Saturday on suspicion of intentionally starting wildfires, as hundreds of firefighters battled blazes that have killed at least 21 people in the past week.
One man was apprehended on the Greek island of Evia for allegedly setting grass in the Karystos region on fire. The fire department reported that the suspect confessed to starting four additional fires between July and August.
A second man arrested in the Larissa region of central Greece was also accused of igniting dried vegetation on purpose.
Officials blamed arson for several fires in Greece over the past week. However, it was unclear what sparked the country’s largest blazes, including one in the northeastern region of Evros, where nearly all of the fire-related deaths occurred, and another on the outskirts of Athens.
“Some … arsonists are setting fires, endangering forests, property and above all human lives,” Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias said Thursday. “What is happening is not just unacceptable, but despicable and criminal.”
According to the minister, nine fires were started in the Avlona area Thursday morning in the northern foothills of Mount Parnitha, a mountain on the northwestern outskirts of Athens, one of the capital’s last green areas.
A large fire was already burning on the mountain’s southern side at the time, and it raged on Saturday.
“You are committing a crime against the country,” Kikilias said. “We will find you. You will be held accountable to justice.”
Later Thursday, a 45-year-old man was arrested for arson, allegedly starting at least three fires in the Avlona area. According to police, a search of his home revealed kindling, a fire torch gun, and pine needles.
Over the past week, Greece has experienced a daily outbreak of dozens of fires as gale-force winds and hot, dry summer conditions combine to whip up flames and impede firefighting efforts.
Firefighters responded to 111 fires on Friday, including 59 that started between Thursday and Friday evenings, according to the fire department.
Although most new fires were contained in their early stages, some grew into massive blazes that destroyed homes and vast swaths of forest.
Storms were forecast for some areas of Greece on Saturday, and lightning strikes sparked several fires near the Greek capital.
The fire department reported that 100 firefighters, including contingents from France and Cyprus, assisted by four helicopters, brought four outlying areas near the Greek capital under partial control within hours.
The fire department called on the public “to be particularly careful” and to follow directions by authorities “given that intense thunderstorm activity is occurring in various parts of the country.”
The Evros fire, the largest fire currently raging in Greece, raged for an eighth day Saturday near Alexandroupolis after causing at least 20 deaths.
Increasing Toll: Grim Discoveries and International Aid in Greece’s Wildfire Crisis
On Tuesday, firefighters discovered 18 bodies in a forest, one on Monday and another on Thursday. Authorities believe the victims may have been migrants who recently crossed the border from Turkey, even though no one has been reported missing in the area.
Greece’s Disaster Victim Identification Team was activated to identify the victims’ remains, and a telephone hotline was established for potential relatives. On Monday, another man died while attempting to save his livestock from advancing flames in central Greece. Monday.
More than 290 firefighters were battling the Evros fire, which was aided by five planes and two helicopters. Another 260 firefighters, four planes, and three helicopters were battling the Mount Parnitha fire.
With its firefighting forces stretched to the breaking point, Greece requested assistance from other European countries. Germany, Sweden, Croatia, and Cyprus sent aircraft, while dozens of firefighters from Romania, France, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Albania, and Slovakia assisted on the ground.
Greece imposes wildfire prevention regulations, typically from the beginning of May to the end of October, to limit activities such as burning dried vegetation and using outdoor barbecues.
Fire department officials have arrested 163 people on fire-related charges since this year’s fire season, according to government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis, including 118 for negligence and 24 for deliberate arson. The police made a further 18 arrests, he said.
Source: abc NEWS