After over 50 wildfires have devastated Greece and claimed 83 lives, investigators believe that the fires, which began near Athens, were the result of arson. According to ABC News, Greece’s public order minister, Nikos Toskas, stated that after reviewing the satellite imagery and conducting numerous ground inspections, it is believed that the “fires that simultaneously broke out in multiple places were the work of arsonists.”
“We have serious indications of criminal acts,” said Toskas. “Lots of fires appeared in a very short period of time. We are troubled by many factors, and there have been physical findings that are the subject of an investigation.”
The fires started Monday afternoon. The origin of the first blaze was in Mati, a small coastal community 18 miles east of Athens. The wildfires ravaged the city, resulting in the destruction of thousands of homes and nearly 300 vehicles. The blaze, which was “Fanned by winds of up to 60 miles per hour and fueled by parched vegetation,” expanded to over 22 places near “seaside communities outside the capital of Athens.” In addition to the high winds, “climate conditions in the areas affected by the fire were extreme due to climate change,” according to BBC News.
The Lyreion orphanage, which had been established nearly 50 years ago, was also destroyed by the fires. The children who occupied the orphanage had been “away at camp” as the wildfires destroyed the orphanage’s buildings.
Officials are seriously investigating the possibility of arson, as well as “probing illegally constructed buildings in the forest areas that blocked escape routes when the fires erupted.”
Local authorities also believe that “haphazard and unlicensed building” is also to blame for the number of people killed or injured by the fire. There are several routes to the beach that were blocked, preventing many from traveling to the sea to escape the fires, according to the Strait Times.
As of Thursday, 83 people were killed and an additional 200 were injured. Many of the victims were “caught close to the cliff as the flames spread rapidly” in Mati. There are still dozens of people missing.
Thursday afternoon, the greater Athens area was hit by flash floods just as the relatives of wildfire victims traveled to the coroner’s office to provide blood samples and documentation to help identify the dead and the missing. Many of those killed by the fire were “completely charred.”
“This is a difficult process, more difficult than other mass disasters we have dealt with,” said Nikolaos Kalogrias, the Athens coroner.