FILE- In this file photo dated Tuesday, July 24, 2018, firefighters stand on the cliff top where burned trees hug the coastline in Mati east of Athens, after wildfires raged through the popular seaside areas near the Greek capital. The prime minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras pledged Thursday Aug. 9, 2018, to overhaul the national disaster response agency, as authorities publicly named all the people killed by the country’s deadliest forest fire in decades. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis, FILE)

Woman whose family perished in Greek fire files lawsuit

August 17, 2018 - 8:36 am

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A woman whose family perished in a deadly Greek forest fire filed a criminal lawsuit Friday against seven officials, including Greece's interior minister, asserting they share the blame for the blaze that killed dozens.

Barbara Voukaki, who lost her husband Grigoris Fytros, 11-year-old son Andreas and 13-year-old daughter Evita in the July 23 fire, submitted the lawsuit Friday, accusing the officials of intentional homicide and exposure to danger in the deaths of her family.

The lawsuit names Interior Minister Panos Skourletis; Nikos Toskas, who resigned as public order minister several days after the blaze; a local mayor; the regional governor; and the former heads of the fire department, police and civil protection agency.

The fire swept through a seaside resort northwest of Athens, killing 96 people. Most died of burns, although several drowned after swimming out to sea to escape the heat and smoke. Two of those who died have yet to be identified and have not been sought by relatives.

The worst affected area was the settlement of Mati, where the Fytros family had a holiday home. On the day of the forest fire, the father and children were spending time there while Voukaki remained at work in Athens. In her lawsuit, Voukaki said she was in constant contact with her husband as the fire developed, but at some point could no longer get in touch with her family.

The charred bodies of Grigoris and Andreas Fytros were found together in an area near the sea and identified through forensics tests. Evita's body was found in the sea, after her clothes caught fire and she jumped off a cliff in a desperate attempt to save herself.

"I am certain that their deaths, like the deaths of tens of our fellow citizens, could have been avoided if the state apparatus and its incumbents had operated as the law states," Voukaki said in her lawsuit.

The lawsuit accuses the officials of a series of oversights and omissions, including failing to clear public areas of flammable material, a lack of coordination among emergency services and a failure to inform residents of a need to evacuate their homes in time.

Voukaki's lawyer, Vassilis Kapernaros, said the lawsuit included elements "that prove ... the sharing of responsibility and blame of all those whom we are suing" for the deaths.

The lawsuit will be sent to parliament on Monday, Kapernaros said. Lawsuits involving ministers or sitting members of parliament must first be considered by lawmakers, who can decide whether to lift parliamentary immunity from prosecution. Only if immunity is lifted can charges be officially brought.

The government has largely blamed illegal construction for the high death toll in the blaze, Greece's deadliest forest fire in decades. Experts have pointed to the narrow streets, numerous dead-ends and no clear path to the sea as factors contributing to the deaths.

A judicial investigation is underway into the causes and handling of the fire, Greece's deadliest in decades.

The government came under intense criticism for its handling of the blaze in the days following the disaster, particularly after it denied mishandling the emergency response. Toskas, the public order minister, had said he had been unable to identify any major mistakes.

Following relentless denunciation from opposition parties, Toskas resigned, followed by senior officials under his supervision.

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