Six sentenced over fire that claimed 104 lives


Almost six years after wildfires claimed the lives of more than 100 people at a Greek resort, six people were found guilty in a court in Athens on Monday of culpable homicide and criminal negligence.

None of the politicians, who are among the 21 people prosecuted, have been found guilty. This led to great consternation among the relatives of the victims who were present in court, local media reported.

The six defendants – including the former fire chief, received suspended sentences of up to 111 years each for their role in the response to the fire that spread through Mati on July 23, 2018. The six persons paid fines of up to €40 000 (almost R80 000) to the court.

The governor of the Attica region and the mayors of the districts in and around the coastal community of Mati, northeast of the capital, were all acquitted.

“Your court is an insult to the dead, the living and the truth,” family members said in response to the verdict. “There is no justice” and “you have no shame” are some of the reactions, according to the public broadcaster ERT. Other family members just cried.

“One can understand their reaction,” state minister Makis Voridis told Skai TV. “This type of sentence cannot be compared to this type of tragedy.”

Ioannis Bougas, Greek Minister of Justice, told Skai-radio that a public prosecutor will “very likely” appeal against the sentences.

Wildfires that started in Mati spread so quickly that people were charred in their cars because they could not flee due to traffic jams. Others drowned when they ran into the sea to escape the flames. Many who were in the sea had to wait for hours before help arrived. Local fishermen were first on the scene to help. They arrived before the Coast Guard and the Navy.

“We are lucky to be alive,” one of the survivors told reporters at the court.

A total of 104 people were killed and dozens were injured.

The fire destroyed about 1,260 hectares, a spokesperson for the observatory in Athens said at the time.

The former prime minister Alexis Tsipras said officers could not organize an effective evacuation in time, due to gale-force winds of up to 120 km/h. However, the police and fire brigade gave conflicting feedback.

Eyewitnesses said at that stage that residents were not warned about the impending danger.

Instead of diverting traffic away from the fires, many motorists were accidentally driven in the direction of the fire and were trapped in Mati’s narrow streets.

State prosecutors filed cases of criminal negligence against 21 officers from the fire brigade, port police and civil protection, as well as against local authorities.

Four senior officers, including former police minister Nikos Toskas and several police chiefs, resigned. Firefighters were forced to resign or move to jobs in other areas.

Experts believe that poor urban planning, including a lack of proper access routes and the construction of too many buildings next to forested areas contributed to the disaster.

The government that succeeded Tsipras’ administration has pledged to introduce systemic evacuation plans as wildfires approach populated areas.