Greek authorities have said that 79 people have been arrested on arson charges after a series of deadly wildfires caused devastation across the country.
Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kiklias, who also has the climate crisis portfolio, described arsonists as “scum” whose actions had threatened human life.
“Arsonist scum are setting fires that threaten forests, property, and most of all, human lives,” he told reporters. “You will not get away with it. We will find you [and] you will be held accountable.”
Minister Kikilias also said there had been nine attempts within four hours by arsonists to start new fires north-west of Athens on Mount Parnitha.
“You are committing a crime against the country,” he said. “What is happening is not just impermissible, but obscene and criminal.”
Up to 21 people are believed to have died in the wildfires, and huge tracts of forest have been damaged, with the fires also burning homes and livestock. The hot, dry summer and strong winds have made it more difficult to contain the flames and have hampered firefighters’ efforts.
79 of the 140 arrests as a consequence of wildfires are related to arson, the authorities have now said.
Associated Press reported that:
One man was arrested on the Greek island of Evia for allegedly setting fire to dried grass in the Karystos area. The fire department said the man confessed to having set four other fires in the area in July and August.
A second man arrested in the Larissa area of central Greece also was accused of intentionally setting fire to dried vegetation.
In addition, a 45-year-old man was also arrested in relation to three fires which had allegedly been deliberately set in the Avlona area. Police said that they had found kindling, a fire torch gun and pine needles, during a search of his home.
18 bodies, believed to be those of migrants seeking to cross into the European Union, were found last week in the ashes of a blackened Greek forest close to the border with Turkey. Two of those who had died in the fire were children. A 19th body was later found in the same forest.
Hundreds of Greek firefighters have battled the wildfires, with support coming from other European countries. Lightning strikes are also believed to have caused several fires at the weekend.
From May to October each year, the Greek authorities impose preventative regulations against wildfires, outlawing activities such the use of outdoor barbeques and burning dried vegetation.
While the long hot summer in Greece this year and the “unprecedented heatwave” have been attributed to climate change, the authorities have previously said that most of the 667 fires across Greece in July were started “by human hand”.
Minister Kikilias told reporters last month that: “During this time 667 fires erupted, that is more than 60 fires a day, almost all over the country. Unfortunately, the majority were ignited by human hand, either by criminal negligence or intent.”
He added that in some parts of Greece, fires had broken out simultaneously at different points in close proximity, suggesting that arsonists were involved who sought to spread fires further.