Greece says ‘serious indications’ of arson behind deadly wildfire that killed at least 83 people

  • Many missing after fire near Athens kills at least 83
  • Authorities suspect arson
  • Rescuers, volunteers continue door-to-door search
  • Relatives desperate, survivors angry
  • Town planning ‘chaos’ didn’t help, says minister
  • Flash flood hits part of Athens
  • The body of Irishman Brian O’Callaghan-Westropp was found yesterday

Buildings burn in the town of Mati, east of Athens
(AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Buildings burn in the town of Mati, east of Athens
(AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
The flag on the Acropolis hill flies at half-mast (Theodora Tongas/AP)
Burned cars are collected together at an old football field in Rafina (Thanassis Stavrakis/AP)
Damaged cars are strewn across an open parking area (Thanassis Stavrakis/AP)
The beach in Mati, east of Athens (Thanassis Stavrakis/AP)

Greece has “serious indications” that arson caused a wildfire that soared near Athens on Monday, killing at least 83 people and injuring scores, Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Toskas said on Thursday.

“We have serious indications and significant signs suggesting the criminal actions of arson,” Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Toskas told a news conference. He said police had testimonies to that effect, but did not elaborate.

Grief became tinged with anger on Thursday as rescuers searched scorched land and the coastline for survivors, three days after a wildfire destroyed a small town and killed at least 83 people, including Irishman Brian O’Callaghan-Westropp whose body was found yesterday.

In a nation numbed by the scale of devastation, desperate relatives appeared on television to plead for information on those missing, while questions mounted why so many were trapped by a wall of flame in streets with no exit route at Mati.

“This shouldn’t have happened, people perished for no reason,” a tearful woman shouted at Defence Minister Panos Kammenos as he visited the town and nearby fire-ravaged areas. “You left us at God’s mercy!”

It was unclear why there was no evacuation order, with the fire brigade, local administration and central government each saying the other was responsible.

With the toll from Greece’s deadliest wildfire in decades expected to rise further, about 300 firemen and volunteers combed the area for dozens still missing.

After an extensive search, the family of Brian O’Callaghan-Westropp received the devastating news yesterday afternoon that he was among the 83 people killed in the blaze.

He married his partner Zoe Holohan last week before they flew out for their honeymoon. When the deadly blaze tore through the coastal town of Mati, the couple became separated as they tried to escape.

Ms Holohan, who works in the advertising department of the ‘Sunday World’ newspaper, was hospitalised in Athens having suffered burns.

It is understood she will remain there for a period while she awaits surgery.

The Holohan and O’Callaghan-Westropp families released a statement verifying Mr O’Callaghan-Westropp’s death.

They said: “We are deeply saddened to confirm the death of our family member, Brian O’Callaghan-Westropp.

“The families would respectfully appreciate privacy at this time as we grieve and as Zoe makes her recovery.

The cause of the fire is still unclear, but authorities, including an Athens prosecutor, were investigating how it started simultaneously from three different locations and the way it was handled.

Furthermore, Greece’s Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Toskas said satellite image analysis and ground inspections suggest the fire that broke out in multiple places in a short time frame on Monday likely resulted from arson.

More to follow…


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