Greek fires: Alexis Tspiras assumes ‘political responsibility’ as criminal investigation launched

Greece has opened a criminal investigation into the deadly wildfires that devastated a coastal resort near Athens this week, as Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras said he assumed "political responsibility" for the tragedy. 

At a cabinet meeting broadcast by Greek media, Mr Tsipras said he wanted first of all "to assume completely before the great Greek people the political responsibility for this tragedy".

"I believe that is what the prime minister and the government should do," he added.

The government, which has come in from strong criticism over its response to the disaster, had been slammed by the opposition for the "deplorable spectacle" of "rejecting any responsibility" for the fire and instead blaming its spread on illegal construction in the Rafina area, leading to a lack of proper access routes and too many buildings built close to combustible forest areas. 

Separately, Deputy Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Toskas said on Thursday there were "serious" signs that the worst of the fires was the result of arson, telling reporters that "a serious piece of information has led us to opening an investigation" into "possible criminal acts" over the blazes. 

As the investigation began, coroners on Friday completed autopsies on the victims caught up in Greece’s worst fires in decades, most of whom were killed in the Mati area. 

In a sign of the severity of the fire, the Athens Forensics Department said it had actually identified 86 separate victims after forensic testing, rather than the original 83 people initially thought to be involved.  Many of the dead were burned beyond recognition and the identification procedure, relying on DNA samples from relatives, is expected to take several days. 

Rescuers are continuing to search the scorched area near the port of Rafina, while coastguard and volunteer divers scoured the sea for other victims. It is still unclear how many people might be missing.