Greek firefighters search for missing people Friday as Fotini Matrakidis holds flowers next to the point where a six-month-old baby died amid a forest fire in Mati, a northeast suburb of Athens, Greece. Officials said at least 87 people have died as a result of fires this week. Photo by Yannis Kolesidis/EPA-EFE
July 27 (UPI) -- To curb public anger, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras took responsibility Friday for this week's deadly wildfires after criticism about rescue efforts and blocked escape routes.
The fires have been the deadliest Greece has seen in decades, so far having killed at least 87 people, injured hundreds and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.
"I have called you here today first of all to take full political responsibility for this tragedy in front of my cabinet and the Greek people," Tsipras said at a news conference Friday. "I won't hide that I am overwhelmed by mixed feelings right now... Pain, devastation for the human lives unexpectedly and unfairly lost. But also anguish at whether we acted correctly in everything we did."
Tsipras' remorse followed criticism from opposition political party New Democracy, which slammed the Greek leader for not apologizing at a similar conference Thursday.
"This deplorable spectacle of rejecting any responsibility can only provoke anger," the New Democracy said in a statement.
Satellite images and ground inspections of charred areas near Athens have led Greek investigators to believe at least some of the fires this week were intentionally set.
"We have serious indications and significant findings of criminal activity concerning arson," public order minister Nikos Toskas said. "We are troubled by many factors, and there have been physical findings that are the subject of an investigation."
Relatives of the missing face another hurdle because many victims' bodies are burned beyond recognition, making identification difficult. Government officials are asking for dental records and DNA samples to help forensic specialists with the process.
Hundreds fled to nearby beaches and jumped in the sea to outrun the flames and choking smoke.
Thanassis Moraitis said he tried to escape with his 90-year-old mother, wife and 19-year-old son. His mother didn't make it.
"I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye," Moraitis said.
Chef Panagiotis Kokkinidis posted a video online early this week just after the East Attica fires started.
"Unless a miracle happens, a lot of people will burn to death," he wrote.
The chef, his wife and two children were found dead a few hours later.
As rescue crews and volunteers continue to search land and sea for more victims, survivors are at odds with the government over who's to blame for beleaguered rescue efforts.
Many Greeks have said the government's slow response cost lives. Authorities and other officials said the situation is more complicated.
Athens' government spokesman, the citizen protection minister, chiefs of police and the fire department all denied responsibility and offered no apologies during a news conference Thursday.
They said the fires spread because of dry conditions, strong winds and bad construction planning that hampered escapes.
Government spokesperson Dimitris Tzanakopoulos praised emergency responders and said it's impossible to evacuate towns in such a short period of time.