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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Horrifying forest fires in Greece

PHOTO FROM NASA Latest fire map available: 08/29/07 - 09/07/07 (2007241-2007250)

In four heatwaves, one each in June and July and two in August, with temperatures exceeding 400 C in the day time and staying above 300 C even during the night for two to four consecutive days and with strong winds, thousands of fires occurred (well over 3.000 fires for the period, repeatedly over 200 per 24 hours). Over 150 arson mechanisms were collected in the aftermath of the fires.

Few fires escaped early control by the locals or the fire fighting service but they were enough to devastate the country in the worse year for fires ever recorded in a country were forest fires are a regular occurrence. Attica, the Peloponese, Euboea, Mount Pelion and Cefalonia were particularly damaged.

75 human lives lost, aprox. 15.000 homeless, tens of hamlets destroyed by fire, 50.000 sheep and goat animals, 200.000 ha of forests and 100.000 ha of agriculture and pasture land burnt , costs of 1 billion Euro (without counting lives or ‘’social costs’’) are current estimates of the human and material losses of the country. There was relatively little damage to ancient monuments but considerably more to Byzantine churches and other treasured buildings.

The fire fighting service persevered with great courage against the fires for days on end in the most adverse conditions. They lost 5 of their members in the process.

There were generous and moving manifestations of solidarity from the EU, from its member –countries, from our neighbours, notably Turkey, from our kin – Cyprus, and from many other countries. There was ample and moving moral and material support. At the end of August we had perhaps the largest ever international fire fighting air force, operating against the fires.

The August fires coincided with the electoral period and soon became a focal point for party –political recrimination .

It is now time to reorganize our defense against forest fires in the Mediterranean with particular attention to prevention and early response and in this, as in so much else, we look forward to EU initiatives and leadership.

Greek Forest Owners Association



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