“Even if an organized preventive evacuation of the residents was ordered, it would not be implemented, as neither the region nor the municipalities were organized» said the retired lieutenant general of the Fire Department at the trial for the tragedy in Mati Andrianos Gourbatsiswho began his deposition today.

Mr. Gourbatsis, arson crime expert, who appointed as technical advisor to families of victims, appeared before the judges of the Three-member Misdemeanor Court to testify about the elements included in the technical report he drew up regarding the fire of July 23, 2018 which turned into a hundred dead.

“We are talking about the second fire in victims in the world in the 21st century. The first in Greece. The leader was not coordinating. From the conversations, it appears that everyone was going where they wanted and at some point coordination was lost,” said the lieutenant general in his testimony, giving the mark for the chain of factors that turned the fire into a disaster.

Answering the questions of the Prosecutor General Panagiotis Maniatisthe witness, after clarifying that the recommendation of the Fire Department was not necessary for the evacuation of citizens, went on to say that even if a decision was taken in time, i.e. by 5:30 p.m., it could not be implemented, as the Local Government was not properly prepared as it should have been.

Prosecutor: Are you saying that even if it was ordered it would not be implemented?

Witness: Yes, the municipalities and the district were not organized as the law said.

Prosecutor: Are you saying that there were no memoranda of actions and that the non-recommendation by the Fire Department served as an alibi?

Witness: The evacuation was not carried out because they feared that if it was ordered, there would be more victims. There was no provision for how the people would be removed, where they would gather, etc. and they preferred not to be removed.

Referring to the management of the fire by the Fire Department, the witness emphasized that the inaction of the competent officers to activate the aerial vehicles played a decisive role and “cost” the tragic result. “The aerial forces had to act. That is the key. That’s where the fire had to be contained,” said the retired officer, who went on to say that “regardless of whether the recommendation (to evacuate) was made or not, the Fire Department had to act with multiple vehicles to rescue people. They knew that the direction of the wind was west. The mechanism should have been prepared to save people,” said the witness.

According to the technical advisor of the victims, since the previous day, when it was known that the risk of fire was increased, the necessary measures for increased aerial surveillance and general vigilance were not taken. “A bit of caution equals nothing! General vigilance had to be exercised. For people to come and staff vehicles. Only 33 water carriers were mobilized here. We had cars and no people to man them. Mr. Fostieris (ESKE commander) was able to take it from guard stage 2 to 3. The staff arrives at the general guard in about an hour. When you order it 17:30 until they get to their seats.. the crowd is on fire! The leader and deputy leader can order a general alert. For Attica, the regional governor could also order” the witness pointed out.

Referring to the ESKE commander, he emphasized that with his choices, despite the danger of the day, there were not enough personnel in his position. “That’s why at some point they lost their temper and were cursing people,” said the witness.

He also said that “the effort made with the air club aircraft for aerial surveillance, which did not perceive the fire, was futile. If two canards were erected, as was done in the past, one in the southern sector and one in the northern sector, this would not happen. If this system were implemented, they would see the fires immediately.”

Mr. Gourbatsis even pointed out that on that day “all five Fire Brigade aircraft were available for aerial surveillance” while he mentioned that the previous day and while there was knowledge of an increased risk of a magnitude 4 fire, a Fire Brigade aircraft was used for airlift, which was not is in the House’s duties.

When asked by the prosecutor who has the ultimate responsibility for the decisions made, the lieutenant general said: “The chief is in charge of everything. The leader is assisted by the deputy leaders.”

As the witness mentioned, on that day the physical and political leadership of the Fire Brigade was at ESKE and he continued by saying about the then minister Nikos Toska: “Politicians go there out of interest… to be informed, but they do not intervene operationally. In this case, however, there are communications, such as for example the commander of ESKE, who is heard saying about the aerial means “I will talk to the minister”. I consider that Mr. Toskas was interfering operationally.”

Asked by the prosecutor about the fire that had broken out a little earlier that day in Elefsina at the motor oil facilities, Mr. Gourbatsis said that an aerial was made available, with a diversion, while now the fire “was creeping”, after assistance was requested from the business.

Prosecutor: With these operational data you say, was the diversion of the aircraft justified instead of Eastern Attica to Motor Oil?

Witness: In no case! The firefighter’s first concern is to save human lives, not structures.

Prosecutor: Was the fire outside the refineries?

Witness: Exactly.

As for the complete lack of informing the residents of the impending danger of Mati, since then “112” did not work as it does today, the witness expressed his belief that “the least they could do was to inform the citizens. The Fire Department helicopter has a loudspeaker. The Police helicopter also has a PA system more amplified than ours. In fact, at that time, Mr. Toskas had also made statements that the operational means of the Police are included in the planning of the PS. He made these statements during the fire drill of the Fire Brigade that takes place every May.”

In the part of the actions taken to rescue citizens, the witness emphasized that the procedures started after 10 in the evening and while there were already dead people.

Counsel for the Prosecution: There is testimony in the case file that says verbatim, “fortunately the firemen did not enter Mati because they would have been burned too.” What about this one;

Witness: We speak from the result. I don’t think they would do anything if the firemen entered Mati when the fire had gone down. Actions should have been taken beforehand. The Fire Department bulletin says that 40 people were saved, with no evidence or anything else. Unless they were putting anyone they saw in the vehicle on Marathon Avenue…

The witness statement will continue tomorrow.