As thick black smoke filled the Athenian sky and blazes consumed homes in the suburbs, a political firestorm broke out among Greek politicians Wednesday.
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from the Greek capital’s suburbs as fires burn through vast swathes of the densely forested Mount Parnitha and other parts of the country, and critics blame Greece’s government for mismanagement and inadequate preparation.
“We are experiencing days of complete collapse,” said Stergios Kalpakis, spokesman for the main opposition Syriza party, arguing that the state had been incompetent. He accused Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of “grandstanding” in July when he said the country was prepared for the summer and the likelihood of fires.
“It’s a shame, we don’t have any water,” Thodoris Rentzos, a volunteer firefighter in Parnitha, told Open TV. “For three hours, not even a water truck. The regional authority is absent.”
Greece attempted to assess its failures, particularly around fire prevention, after the Mati wildfire in 2018 ― the country’s deadliest fire to date ― culminating in a report noting the need to upgrade the fire prevention system. Mitsotakis, then the opposition leader, supported the probe.
In July, the country battled devastating blazes across islands and the mainland, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands. Mitsotakis’ statement “collapsed both in the devastating fires of July and in what we are living today, a month later, with a huge environmental and economic disaster, with human losses,” Kalpakis said.
Elsewhere, firefighters battled blazes on the islands of Evia and Kythnos, the region of Boeotia, western Greece and the Peloponnese.
In the northeast region of the country, near the Turkish border, at least 20 people have died, nearly all of them migrants. Major blazes are burning in the northern regions of Evros ― a frequent entry point for undocumented migrants and where many dead bodies were found ― and Rodopi, where authorities evacuated dozens of villages.
Minister of Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Vassilis Kikilias said while migrants were warned away from the forest, many did not leave the area.
Meanwhile, on social media and on the ground, some in Greece claimed migrants were hiding in the forests, setting them on fire. Police arrested three people who forced 13 migrants whom they blamed for the fires in the area into a trailer in northern Greece Tuesday and urged others to detain migrants on Facebook Live.
“Incidents of vigilante justice or incitement to commit crimes will not be tolerated,” said government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis in a statement.
Supreme Court Prosecutor Georgia Adeilini requested the Alexandroupoli prosecutor investigate the fires near the Turkey-Greece border in the Eros region and the claims of racism towards migrants. Late Wednesday, the Alexandroupoli prosecutor’s office charged the 13 migrants who were forced into the trailer with attempted arson.