An urgent report released by the University of Athens last Tuesday, identified authorities’ failure to issue timely warning, along with environmental factors and town planning features, as some of the main reasons responsible for the high death toll and catastrophic spread of the wildfires in Eastern Attica.
The scientific team conducted mapping of fire affected areas and assessment of damage to the natural and built environment and based their calculations and conclusions on meteorological, remote sensory and drone data among others.
The fire is classified as a typical crown fire in wildland urban interface, aided by very strong winds which in turn led to “a rapid downslope spread towards the coast”.
Researchers found that the rate of spread was also accelerated in certain locations due to dense vegetation, with significant temperature rise from stormy downslope winds and low humidity creating ideal conditions for higher velocity fire movement.
The rapid progression of the fire-front was recognised as a major contributing factor to the high death toll.
Based on first-hand accounts, the report also points to the lack of timely official warnings, with most warning about the approaching wildfire having taken place only by word of mouth, leaving inhabitants and numerous visitors “almost zero time between realising the danger and reacting to it.”
Adding to that, the area’s morphology with steep slopes along the coast impeded people from accessing the beach, while the town layout with narrow roads and alleys leading to dead-ends was deemed responsible for the haphazard vehicle congestion and entrapment of a great number of people.
The study also looked into the impact on the natural and built environment, noting that buildings comprising inadequate construction or non-fire resistant materials suffered the most damage, usually partial or total collapse.
According to Greek newspaper Kathimerini, as fire victims and relatives of the deceased are preparing to take legal action, prosecutor Varvara Gnesouli plans to lift confidentiality restrictions surrounding communications between state services involved in fire fighting operations, in order to ascertain “who knew when it [the fire] broke out and when authorities were first informed about the deaths.”
The study was conducted by a research team affiliated with the university’s “Environmental, Disaster & Crisis Management Strategies” post-graduate program and led by Dr Efthymios Lekkas, Professor of Dynamic, Tectonic and Applied Geology and Dr Panayotis Carydis, Professor Emeritus in the school of Civil Engineering.
The authors acknowledge that “the cause of the wildfire remains still unknown” and state that conclusions are based on a compilation of data which is ongoing and thus subject to change.
The full 49-page report can be accessed online at https://edcm.edu.gr/images/docs/2018/Newsletter_Attica_Fires_2018_v11.pdf