Europe

Greek senior officials charged over deadly wildfires in Mati

A photo shows the burned and blackened husks of buildings and twisted blackened trees sitting by the coastline in Greece Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Large areas of Mati were incinerated all the way to the coast line, killing 100 people

Greek prosecutors have charged 20 people, including senior officials, in connection with the deaths of 100 people in a massive wildfire last year.

The fires in the seaside village of Mati in July 2018 spread rapidly, trapping people in their homes and cars - and even some who fled to the sea.

Regional politicians, police and fire officials are among the accused.

The charges include negligent manslaughter, arson, and grievous bodily harm, prosecutors said.

The wildfire struck Mati on Greece's east coast, not far from Athens, an area popular with tourists. Hundreds fled into the sea to escape the flames, although many did not make it that far.

Weeks after the blaze, allegations were made of mismanagement by fire and police officials - including accusations that no alarms were raised and that road diversions were set up which drove people into, rather than away from, the fire's path.

Seven months later, a report by prosecutors found "there was an absolute lack of communication, chaos and a collapse of the system, culpability among state services that shared responsibility, criminal mistakes and omissions during the handling of the wildfires".

Among the accused are:

  • Rena Dourou, Attica governor
  • Ilias Psinakis, Mayor of Marathon
  • Evangelos Vournous, Mayor of Rafina
  • Sotiris Terzoudis, former head of the fire department (as of July 2018)
  • Vasilis Mattheopoulos, current head of the fire department (deputy head in July 2018)
  • Ioannis Kapakis, former head of Civil Protection

A 65-year-old man suspected of having started the wildfires after he burned wood in his garden is also facing charges.

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Media captionArchive video: "The flames were chasing us into the water"

Because the charges of arson, manslaughter, and grievous bodily harm relate to negligence rather than intentional malice, the accused are facing up to five years in prison for misdemeanours.

But a provision in Greek law allows that term to be extended to 10 years in exceptional circumstances - which many believe this case may qualify for.

About 350 witnesses were interviewed to contribute to the prosecutors' report, Greek media said.

In addition to criticism of the crisis management and co-operation during the blaze, it said there were issues with the preparation and prevention to avert such a catastrophe.

In the immediate aftermath of the blaze, government officials highlighted a widespread problem of illegally-built structures which had allegedly blocked escape routes. However, this was not included in the prosecutors' report as a cause of the tragedy.

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