5 former officials are convicted over Greece's deadliest wildfire but are freed after being fined

FILE - People stand amid the charred remains of burned-out cars in Mati east of Athens, Greece, Tuesday, July 24, 2018. A court on Monday, April 29, 2024, has convicted five former Fire Service and disaster response officials over a 2018 wildfire outside Athens that killed more than 100 people. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis, File)


ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A Greek court convicted five former firefighting and disaster response officials on Monday over the deadliest wildfire in the country’s history, with more than 100 people killed outside the capital. But some survivors were outraged when they were fined and let go.

The 2018 fire swept through the seaside town of Mati, east of Athens. Residents and vacationers, many trapped in their cars, were killed as they tried to escape.

The officials, including a former fire chief, received sentences of between 15 and 111 years for multiple counts of criminal negligence resulting in injury and loss of life. But the presiding judge ordered that sentences could be served concurrently, capping jail time at five years.

All five convicted officials were let go and allowed to pay fines in lieu of serving their sentences. Under Greek law, payment can be deferred pending an appeal.

A sixth defendant, the owner of the property where the fire started, received a three-year sentence for negligence and was also let go. Fifteen other firefighting officials, police, civil protection and local government officials were cleared of all charges.

Irini Maroupa, one of the lawyers representing the victims, told reporters outside the courthouse that her clients were bitterly disappointed.

“All sense of shame has been lost,” she said. “The victims of this fire who died in horrific circumstances, and those injured who will suffer for the rest of their lives — and this was clearly illustrated in court — will never have the opportunity to find peace in their soul.” During the trial, fire officials described the overwhelming circumstances as the fire swept through Mati and neighboring Nea Voutsa, with high temperatures and gale-force winds, and noted that the blaze blocked many potential evacuation routes.

More than 1,500 homes and structures were destroyed, along with some 300 cars. The panel of three judges ruled that the response, including a large sea evacuation, was poorly coordinated. Theofanis Hatzistamou, whose son and wife suffered severe injuries, said he felt abandoned by the state. “I’m lucky because I have a child who lived — child now 11 years old, with scars all over his body and soul, who for the last five years hasn’t slept properly,” he said. Hatzistamou added: “I am going to tell him that Greece has abandoned him for a second time.” ___ Kantouris reported from Thessaloniki, Greece.