Greek firefighters join public outcry at ‘woeful’ response to lethal wildfires

Helena Smith | The Observer | 28/07/2018

As the death toll reaches 88, the head of the fire service union says the government made thousands of small mistakes that led to the unprecedented number of fatalities

Fury over the Greek government’s handling of forest fires that saw scores of people burn to death barely 15 miles from Athens has escalated.

As the death toll rose to 88, firefighters joined the public outcry with an excoriating indictment of the rescue operation. Authorities had not only been woefully ill prepared to deal with the wind-driven wildfire, but had failed to apologise for the tragedy, said Dimitris Stathopoulos, who heads the 12,500-strong Federation of Firefighters. “The government might be saying there were no grave operational mistakes, but what it isn’t saying is that there were thousands of small mistakes,” he told the Observer. “All those mistakes make the big mistake and that is why we had such an unprecedented number of deaths.”

The fire brigade recommended the evacuation of the area but had not been listened to, he said. Moreover, the meteorological service had failed to predict winds of up to 124km/h. This resulted in firefighting aircraft being grounded. “They simply couldn’t take off in such winds. If the meteorological service had raised the danger level and issued a warning, the planes could have gone to a different airport,” he insisted. “And because they weren’t foreseen our resources were scattered.”

The leftist-led government has been left reeling from the disaster. In what has become one of the worst natural disasters in living memory, many victims were children and rescue crews are still combing the land and sea for missing people.