People swim at a beach in Rafina, east of Athens, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018, ten days after the the wildfire. The bodies of 76 people killed by Greece's deadliest wildfire in decades have been identified, authorities said Tuesday, as forensic experts kept working to identify more remains recovered from the charred resort area. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Greece to tear down illegal fences for better fire safety

August 03, 2018 - 9:22 am

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Authorities in Greece will start demolishing dozens of illegal fences and other structures in the wider Athens region next week in a crackdown on building without permits that follows the country's deadliest forest fire in decades.

Environment Minister Giorgos Stathakis told Greek radio channel 24/7 on Friday that authorities would tear down 61 structures, mainly fencing, at sites on beaches, streams and areas earmarked for reforestation in several regions of Attica.

Government officials have blamed illegal construction for contributing to the July 23 disaster, when a fast-moving wildfire swept through a seaside resort near Athens, killing at least 87 people.

But criticism has also mounted over how authorities responded to the blaze.

There have been allegations that police diverted drivers from a main road into the area where the wildfire later swept through. Many survivors have also complained of the lack of an official evacuation order, saying they were left on their own to figure out how to get to safety.

Hundreds of people fled to beaches, but even there the flames and choking smoke from the wildfire forced many to swim out to sea despite gale-force winds. Many survivors spent hours in the water until they were rescued by the coast guard, fishing boats and other boats. Several drowned.

Coroner Ilias Bogiokas said the temperatures of the wildfire were such that "there was almost nothing left" of many of the bodies.

"For the bodies to be in this state, with full carbonization and with parts often turned to ashes ... the temperatures must have been very high in a very short period of time," he told The Associated Press. "Whatever happened, happened in minutes."

Eleven days after the fire, the exact death toll was still unclear, with figures diverging between coroners and the fire department.

On July 27, coroners announced they had performed autopsies on the remains of 86 people, while one more person died that day in a hospital. Three days later on July 30, coast guard divers recovered the body of a man from the sea off the coast of the decimated resort area, which would bring the number of dead to 88.

The fire service, however, which has been issuing the official death toll, put the number of dead on Thursday night at 87, including two unidentified, unclaimed bodies and four people who died in hospitals.

Neither the coroners' office nor the fire department could explain the discrepancy.

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Kantouris reported from Thessaloniki, Greece.

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