Crew arrested after yacht fireworks spark Greece blaze

Thirteen people have been arrested following a forest fire on the Greek island of Hydra, that authorities allege was sparked by fireworks launched from a superyacht.

Friday's blaze burnt through 300 acres of the only pine forest on the renowned tourist island, which lies south of Athens, Greece's Climate Crisis Minister Vassilis Kikilias said.

The flames were brought under control, but with difficulty. As there are no roads to the beach, firefighters had to access it by sea, while helicopters dropped water from the air.

Greek media reported that all those arrested are crew members of the superyacht, Persephoni. It is available for summer charter from €249,000 per week (£211,200; $269,300), according to several luxury yacht dealers online.

The public prosecutor has asked for the vessel to be confiscated, Mr Kikilias was quoted as saying.

Several local media outlets, citing court documents, reported that the visitors on the yacht were 17 Kazakhstan nationals who have since left Greece, however the BBC has been unable to independently verify this.

On Sunday morning, the crew were filmed walking into the Piraeus Prosecutor's Office, wearing matching work uniforms and covering their faces with sunglasses, masks and hats.

There is contention between Greece's coast guard, and the fire department.

Local media is reporting that while fire officials are relying on the statement of a captain of a nearby vessel, who allegedly saw flares or fireworks being launched from Persephoni - the coast guard says there is no evidence of this.

Firefighters extinguish a wildfire, in Kitsi, near the town of Koropi, Greece, on June 19, 2024. A fire broke out in the suburban city of Koropi in the eastern Attica region, 16 kilometers (10 miles) southeast of Athens, the fire brigade said Wednesday
Amid a heatwave, Greek firefighters are battling several blazes across the country, including this one in Kitsi, south of Athens [Getty Images]

The alleged cause of the fire has prompted outrage in Greece, which is already battling several wildfires and is in the grip of its first heatwave of the year.

"We are indignant that some people so irresponsibly throw fireworks into a pine forest," Hydra's mayor, Giorgos Koukoudakis, told Greek broadcaster ERT on Saturday.

There has also been condemnation on social media: "Rich people with more money than brains," wrote one person.

Greece has been on high alert for wildfires since Tuesday, and authorities are bracing for a difficult summer as dry conditions, strong winds and high temperatures are set to continue.

On Friday, a 55-year-old volunteer firefighter died from injuries he sustained battling a fire in the southern region of Ilia on the Peloponnese peninsula.

Summer wildfires are common in Greece and scientists have linked the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, including heatwaves, to climate change.

But the country also has a problem with arsonists - at least 79 people were arrested last August over deadly wildfires.

Earlier this year, Greece brought in tougher arsonist laws, with perpetrators facing up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to €200,000.