«Thank God, until now we have had no fatalities»Stated this Wednesday the Greek Prime Minister, Kiriakos Mitsotakis, highlighting the exceptional work of the firefighters, the Army and the volunteers together with those in charge of Civil Protection who were able to evacuate all people affected by the terrible fire near Athens. The fire started in the Varibobi area and spread through the old Olympic Village, the Tatoi area (which includes the former royal estate) and Ajarnés. “Difficulties are still ahead, we will still have days of intense heat and wind,” he warned.
The Deputy Minister of Civil Protection, Nikos Jardaliças, stated at noon that there was only a front with flames of the four tonight and that in total 17 houses and 27 companies and businesses have suffered serious damage and 18 partial damage. There are 520 firefighters, 150 fire trucks, soldiers and police officers as well as volunteers, and five tanker planes and 9 helicopters are in the air. And he warned: «The weather conditions are extreme. We must remain on the alert. We must avoid any activity that could cause a fire.
The fight against other fires is also continuing in central Greece, in the Evia island and in the Peloponnese. The islands of Crete and Rhodes are under the microscope for being in grave danger from the heat and wind. The great fire in a forest area in Rhodes was put out and now a new fire is being brought under control.
Greece is now going through a few days of very high temperatures that exceed 45 degrees, only comparable to those registered in 1987, the summer in which more than a thousand people died. “Now this will not happen,” says Nikos, a retired cardiothoracic surgeon who lives in a residential area of the capital. “Most of the elderly people have air conditioning at home or where their relatives and better health care.” But he is uneasy about air quality, since since last night the entire Attica region breathes the smoke and ashes of the immense fire that has devoured the forests, cultivated fields and the houses of many people. Expect those with lung failure to talk to their doctors and not leave the house to breathe the hot air. Today Athens is over 40 degrees again and there is a high level of pollution.
“Civil Protection sent us an alert by mobile and helped all residents to be rescued quickly,” confirms Jeaneth Zelou, whose beautiful residence on Tatoíu Avenue has apparently been saved but not the buildings around it, where her family even had goats and chickens. «The house seems not to have suffered serious damage but It’s so hot that we can’t get in the rest is charred. We were able to save the animals minutes before the flames reached our land and now to wait for everything to cool down so we can start cleaning and collecting. Luckily the family was spending the summer near the sea.
“It is the first time that we have felt some protection and that there was an organization to rescue people,” says Mr. Kostas, who lives in Ajarnés. A recognition to the good organization of Civil Protection and its person in charge, Nikos Jarnaliás. He was able to be evacuated with his wife and is at his son’s home. But what has surprised him the most has been how even the horses have been saved: This wooded part of the north of the capital has several centers and equestrian clubs and the animals that could not be transported on the spot were deliberately released and hours later collected. The Greek Equestrian Federation announced this morning that all 253 horses, 23 ponies and 2 donkeys rescued are safe, with veterinary attention, at the Olympic equestrian facilities in Markopulo, a few kilometers from the capital. Of course, Kostas could not avoid the comment: «This Mitsotakis tries to do well but is jinx like his father». He refers to the (undeserved) fame of Costas Mitsotakis, who was prime minister between 1990 and 1993. “Since his son Kiriakos governs, the Covid has come to us and now this heat wave that makes the whole country burn.” Impossible to rationalize these comments. But he recognizes that there are tangible improvements: who has seen his house destroyed and has nowhere to go, will be installed by the authorities in a hotel temporarily and free of charge.
“How to describe the strength of this fire?”, Says Costís, a sailor who now sells yachts: “In our family summer home, even the radiators have melted, which were the old cast iron ones, only the walls remain” .
The start of the fire
The great unknown is what caused the fire. The first unofficial findings speak of several transformers of the state electric company DEI, a former state monopoly: it is said that one of them caught fire and others were burned later. Perhaps due to the poor maintenance of the facilities after years of crisis and a company that is now in deficit. But the Minister of Energy, Costas Skrékas, insists on saying that it is not correct, since the causes will be clarified by the investigator of the fire department. According to him, when the fire started the electrical circuits were closed to protect the insulators and that the high-voltage cables are all working, so the Attica region does not have any problem.
One of the most privileged areas affected by the fire has been Parnitha mountain and its natural parkas well as the former royal estate of Tatoi. A small forest area on the edge of the farm has burned but the fire did not reach any buildings. The President of the Friends of Tatoi, Vassilis Koutsavlis, affirms that “there was a possibility that the wind direction would change and Civil Protection, firefighters and volunteers made a coordinated effort so that the historic nucleus (the Palace and its dependencies) would not be endangered. There were tanker trucks ready. ‘ And it tells how at night the most valuable objects (of the 10,000 inventoried, of very different value and size) that were stored in containers near the Palace were transported as a precaution to a safe place thanks to Civil Protection in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture.
The Minister of Culture, Lina Mendoni, as described by Kutsavlis, “was present and coordinated the operation between 10 at night and 3 in the morning.” Tatoi’s farm was ravaged by three major fires in the past (1916, 1945 and 1974) but only suffered a small fire in part of its forest yesterday.