Yacht crew faces criminal charges over Greek island fire allegedly started by fireworks

Athens, Greece — A Greek prosecutor on Sunday brought criminal charges against the captain and crew of a chartered yacht suspected of triggering a forest fire on a resort island in the Aegean Sea during a firework display.

Greece has been plagued in recent days by scores of wildfires amid hot, dry and windy weather. On the day of the blaze authorities had warned of a maximum fire risk in several areas, appealing to the public for extreme caution.

The blaze on a remote stretch of coastline on the popular island of Hydra, 74 kilometers south of Athens, destroyed about 30 hectares of pine forest late Friday.

The crew members of the large motor yacht, which had allegedly been anchored just off where the fire started with 17 tourists on board, were arrested Saturday when they docked near Athens. The tourists were not detained or charged.

State-run ERT television said the captain of another yacht anchored nearby told authorities that the blaze was started by fireworks let off by from the suspects’ vessel on Friday evening.

A prosecutor in the port of Piraeus, which serves Athens, on Sunday ordered the 13 suspects to be held in custody pending their appearance before an investigating judge.

ERT said they were charged under stricter legislation adopted recently and would face sentences of 10-20 years in prison if convicted.

Greece suffers every summer from destructive wildfires that have drastically reduced its forest cover, caused scores of deaths, and burned homes and property.

Authorities warned of a particularly high risk this summer following a warm, dry winter that has left vegetation tinder-dry.

The fire service said Sunday evening that 41 wildfires broke out all over the country in the past 24 hours.

The blaze on Hydra was extinguished after several hours by firefighters brought by boat to the spot, which is uninhabited and not easily accessible by land.

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