Greece officials are investigating whether arsonists started multiple wildfires that killed dozens and razed hundreds of buildings earlier in the week, ABC News reports.
The fires were ignited at roughly the same time around the capital city of Athens, raising the suspicions of state officials and investigators. The fires killed at least 79 people and officials expect that number to climb with dozens missing and more searching to be done.
“Fifteen fires were started simultaneously on three different fronts in Athens,” government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said, according to ABC News.
At least 187 people were injured by flames. Many escaped the blaze, fed with winds blowing more than 60 miles per hour, only by jumping into the Mediterranean Sea from the beach or off cliffs. Officials found the bodies of 26 people huddled at the top of one cliff overlooking a beach, Reuters reports.
“Instinctively, seeing the end nearing, they embraced,” Greece’s Red Cross head Nikos Economopoulos said, according to Reuters.
Satellite images show that half of the roughly 12,760 acres burned by wildfires were in residential areas, BBC reports.
Some residents held the military and local government responsible for the deaths of dozens killed by the fires. Inadequate government action during the crisis let the fires grow larger and spread farther than was necessary, residents claimed.
Many buildings built illegally blocked escape paths to the beach. Some that made it to the water spent hours in the sea before Coast Guard ships picked them up, BBC reports.
“You let people burn for no reason. You left us to the mercy of God,” a woman told Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, according to BBC.
Kammenos blamed lax enforcement of building codes and the illegal structures for blocking escapes.
“This is a crime from the past,” Kammenos said, according to BBC. “This coast of Athens, all these properties, the majority are without a licence, and they have occupied the coast without rules.”
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