Greece fires: Mayor admits errors in response


Vagelis Bournos, mayor of Rafina-Pikermi, mentioned that though climate circumstances together with very robust winds had performed a serious function, human error was partly in charge for the deaths, citing the dearth of a warning in addition to longer-term issues together with poor city planning and the affect on public providers of years of austerity.

“We’d have had much less victims with a well-organized evacuation plan however when the fireplace started within the municipality of Penteli there was no evacuation order for the east half (of Attica) due to the route of the wind,” Bournos instructed CNN in an interview Wednesday, including: “The fireplace was underestimated.”

However the mayor additionally defended the choice to not evacuate Mati and the encompassing coastal villages, the place a whole bunch of properties have been gutted within the blaze that tore by the world Monday.

“Residents don’t observe evacuation plans however they keep behind to guard their households,” he mentioned.

“In fact there may be anger on account of the truth that there are victims. However the identical people who find themselves indignant now, when the evacuation order would have been issued, they’d have stayed again and tried to guard their homes. So victims would nonetheless be there, a smaller quantity, however nonetheless.”

Various our bodies have been present in vehicles and near the ocean, nevertheless, suggesting that many residents did try to flee. A whole bunch extra made it to the seashores and rocky shoreline, some ready within the sea for hours earlier than being rescued.

Demetres Karavellas, director common of WWF Greece, which has warned for years of the lethal menace posed by wildfires and infrequently advises native authorities on regenerate areas after fires, described the mayor’s reasoning as “a lame excuse.”

“Individuals have been making an attempt to depart, individuals have been making an attempt to get out,” he instructed CNN on Thursday.

Bournos admitted that there was a window of time through which an evacuation order may have been issued, but it surely was missed. By the point the blaze was near Mati, “virtually, there couldn’t have been an evacuation,” he mentioned. “The choice would have needed to have been made a few hours earlier.”

“We may have made higher selections for certain,” he mentioned.

‘An accident ready to occur’

Bournos’ admissions additionally recommend a scarcity of coordination within the response, which Karavellas mentioned is a persistent drawback throughout Greece.

“Coordination has all the time been a difficulty,” he mentioned. “We noticed this within the wildfires of 2007 which was the final fireplace that had such a excessive loss of life toll. Again then, we noticed the identical scenario we see now — an issue of coordination when the fireplace breaks out: no evacuation plan in place and no person centrally coordinating.”

A Mati resident who didn’t wish to be named out of worry he would get in bother with the native authorities instructed CNN on Wednesday that locals had been requesting preparedness plans for wildfires for a number of years to no avail. “This was an accident ready to occur,” he mentioned.

Bournos confirmed that residents had made such requests and mentioned that plans had been produced by native volunteer firefighting organizations, however just for smaller-scale eventualities.

Fires across Greece caused dozens of deaths in 2007. Demetres Karavellas says that few lessons were learned from that disaster.

Escape routes blocked

The geography of Mati and the encompassing space can also be rising as a key issue within the excessive loss of life toll. Many homes have been constructed haphazardly and with little regulation in forested areas and have been subsequently extraordinarily susceptible as fireplace ripped by the dry woodland, which consisted principally of extremely flammable pine bushes.

Added to that, roads within the space are slim and unsuited for big numbers of vehicles, in response to Bournos.

“We’re speaking a couple of densely populated space that was constructed with none city planning,” Bournos mentioned. “Streets weren’t designed for such heavy site visitors … 4 thousand households and their residents tried to make use of streets that could not match all of them in.”

Burnt cars are seen in Mati following the wildfire.

Residents spoke of being unable to depart the world by automotive as the fireplace approached due to congested roads. Images taken later confirmed streets blocked by deserted, burned-out vehicles, some with doorways left open, suggesting individuals who have been unable to drive out of Mati had determined to flee on foot as an alternative.

Requested if authorities could be extra ready sooner or later if an identical fireplace have been to hit the Mati space once more, Bournos mentioned, “There’s nothing left to be burned now. Nature and homes have been completely destroyed. We’re right here, dedicated to rebuilding all the pieces the way in which it was, however now with infrastructure.”

A satellite image of Mati taken in October last year shows how many houses were surrounded by flammable forest.

Lack of firefighting sources

Bournos cited the dearth of enough firefighting forces as an issue. A second set of fires that broke out virtually concurrently in Kineta, round 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Mati on Attica’s western coast, drew sources, Bournos mentioned, leaving fewer accessible to battle the flames in jap areas.

He additionally blamed the nationwide austerity insurance policies of the previous couple of years, which have resulted in cuts to all public providers.

A firefighter works to quell the blaze in Kineta, west of Athens Monday.

However each Bournos and Karavellas cite the unusually excessive climate circumstances that contributed to Monday’s catastrophe — excessive temperatures, robust westerly winds (a uncommon phenomenon within the area) and a dry winter that created tinderbox circumstances.

As the worldwide local weather continues to alter, any such fireplace will develop into extra doubtless, Karavellas warned.

In response to a latest research by the Nationwide Observatory of Athens (NCAA) and reported by WWF, within the interval 2021 to 2050, the variety of excessive wildfire danger days per 12 months is predicted to extend by 30, significantly within the jap a part of the nation.

Melissa Bell and Saskya Vandoorne reported from Mati and Judith Vonberg wrote in London.

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