Forest Fires

For discussion, news, comments, questions and information about Crete & Greece.
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Postby Muttly » Sun Aug 26, 2007 3:06 am

filippos wrote:There are some pictures in the D. Telegraph showing the devastation. The news item is here:

A few lines down there are links to a video and some stills.

It looks so terrible it's hard to believe.


Someody will try to profit from it!

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Postby Carolina » Sun Aug 26, 2007 7:35 pm

I've moved this thread from the chatter category.

Sunday evening now and the fires are still raging on the mainland - Ancient Olympia is threatened. So far the firefighters have managed to stop the museum from burning but the flames are in the grounds and around.

Six more people have died in the fires today, five in Evia and a 70 year old woman in her home. At least another two people are missing.

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Postby Muttly » Sun Aug 26, 2007 7:47 pm

The BBC is reporting this as basically the authuorities are having to fight fires on so many fronts as they have lost control of the situation in so far as there are insufficient resources to fight the fires.

I suppose this has been so rapid that even the most organised would be in trouble. International help on way with extra helicopters, aircraft, firefighters and even the French Foreign Legion.

Great sadness at the loss of life. I hope the winds die down at least.

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Postby allan » Sun Aug 26, 2007 8:20 pm

The village, where my wifes Mother used to live, Tripoli, in the Pelloponis area has been surrounded by fire for two days.

The villagers have all been evacuated to safety, but houses have been destroyed.

Luckily Mother lives on the outskirts of Athens and is safe at the moment.

The 50 odd strema of forest and farmland that belong to her may survive the fires but we cannot be certain at the moment.

A very sad time for all in Greece.

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Postby Muttly » Sun Aug 26, 2007 9:58 pm

The Chief of the Fire Services is laying the blame fairly and squarely on arsonists and land owners trying to get areas of land re-zoned from forest to land for building purposes. There is television footage of alleged arsonists setting fires and some arrests are reported.

One area in the western Peloponese that had had fairly heavy encroachment of building and development had over 20 recorded fire starts last night. Bit odd to get that number in one area alone, even odder that it was in the night.

Interesting insight into financial pressures in modern day Greece where land and tourism is high on the list of things that add to the GDP and many of the older trades and industries are taking a back seat because of competition abroad or lack of markets.

As has often been said to me on this forum Crete and Greece have come a long way from that essentially agrarian and maritime based economy of the 70's. I recall when the biggest exports from Greece were oilves and Aristotle Onassis and his shipping empire. Simpler days. But the stakes appear never to have been higher than today.

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Postby paulh » Sun Aug 26, 2007 11:48 pm

Check Onassis's background of dodgy ships and the Greek deaths when they capsized.

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Postby Muttly » Mon Aug 27, 2007 12:57 am

Paul I am no supporter of the man I just point out that at that time in Greece he was a big noise in the Greek economy.

Having worked my way round the Aegean sometimes on boats (with a weather eye on the stokers) I can assure you what he Greeks would put to sea in would make your eyes bulge.

I ran on one general cargo from the mailand out to Rhodes and Samos that had a two auxillary diesel gennies running pumps to keep the bow section clear because their previous puddled pilot had stuffed it into bows first into the wrong side of the mole at Karlovassi harbour in broad daylight and warped the bow plates.

I did not find that out until half way to Crete out of Pireaus when one of the gennies packed up and I spent half a day with some other junior crew on handpumps.

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Postby Wayne d » Mon Aug 27, 2007 1:25 am

My daughter is a nanny in southern Greece. The fires are 10km's from her hotel. She said the sky has been black, the sea has been red. She has been put on alert to evacuate. She has heard the land development theory from her Greek friends. But she still says she wants to stay. Now the wind has dropped the planes cannot see to drop their water. So no wind is bad and wind is also bad.

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Postby Ray » Mon Aug 27, 2007 3:25 am

There was a mention on the greek news - I think it was ANT1 - that around three weeks ago, Interpol warned Greece that something may happen to them from intelligence gathered. There have been no more details on this. Last night the Greek government offered up to one million euros reward for the apprehension of arsonists.

I do not think that this can be blamed on land developers. The cretans that I have spoken to talk of Turkish, Kosovan and even Al Kaida being the cause, but who knows? There was a video on TV from the day before yesterday that showed two people entering a forest just before the fire started there. In another area, explosions were heard as a fire started. On Sunday alone forty new fires started including Kefalonia. As the fire service brings a fire into control, more fires begin. Many of these fires have nothing to do with weather conditions. They are starting upwind of other fires.

Around 1000 British tourists had to sleep on the beach at Halkidiki near Thessalonika and fires are being fought and rising in Evia, the large island to the north of Athens. Most of the southern and eastern Peloponnese have been desolated including the entire Mani peninsular and most of Arcadia and Sparta. Now the new fires threaten Kalamata and Olympia, the ancient site where the Olympic flame is still lit from the sun.

Weather forecasters have said that the wind would drop on Sunday, but the fires became firestorms because of their size and sucked wind into them as the heat makes the air rise. I have never seen fires as bad as this, there are so many stories - the TV channel ANT-1 has people phoning in saying that they are surrounded by fire. A village of forty people was tonight apparently enveloped. Often people are asked to leave and many do, but some also stay for they are afraid for their homes and from looting.

It is four am on Sunday night and I couldn't sleep. The fires are increasing because no-one can fight them at night. Helicopters and planes cannot fly in the dark and this is the time of least water in Greece.

Young people are riding motorbikes up to villages to rescue old people and are in danger of their lives. This courage is amazing. But still people all over the affected areas scream for help, fire brigades and aeroplanes but sadly so many are fighting intense flames themselves with garden hoses and olive branches. This is a very serious disaster.

I pray to God that Crete remains relatively unscathed and that help comes fast to those in such danger in Greece.


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Postby Muttly » Mon Aug 27, 2007 12:58 pm

Has Crete managed to avoid this madness yet? Have you had to relinquish your fire cover for suppoert to the mainland? One time to hold your nerve I suppose.

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Postby Mary » Wed Aug 29, 2007 8:01 am

In 2003 California had the worst forest fires. Then in the winter with the heavy rainfall, we had mudslides because the vegetation was stripped and nothing holding the mountain. It was horrific, our Greek Orthodox Church camp was not damaged during the fires, but then with the mudslide it was destroyed and people tragically died. I hope the Greek government forewarns people if they may be in similar danger.

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Postby Kilkis » Wed Aug 29, 2007 11:08 am

I've been visiting Greece for over twenty years and have lived here for over ten, originally in northern Greece and recently in Crete. For as long as I can remember:

1. Greece has long hot dry summers that completely dry out forest undergrowth.
2. Every year there are forest fires, predominantly because of observation 1.
3. The worst fires are usually in August.
4. There is often more than one fire raging at once, although rarely as many as this year.
5. The fires are always attributable to arsonists.
6. The arsonists are usually developers, who want to get land re-zoned, Albanians, who are responsible for all crime in Greece, Turkish terrorists, who want to foment war between Greece and Turkey etc etc. Whatever happens in Greece it is always the result of some sort of conspiracy. I suppose today you can add Al Q’aida to the list.
7. Every year people die in the fires. Usually the death toll is nowhere near as high as this year and the vast majority killed are fire fighters. The latter is true of forest fires throughout the world.
8. Whatever happens, approximately 50 % of the population will hold strong political views that are opposed to whichever party is in power and they will blame the government. It is not difficult to find people to interview, therefore, who will decry the government for its lack of planning, preparation, action etc.

Anybody who has lived in Greece for any length of time cannot escape noticing that, while your Greek neighbour will do anything to help you and will be generous to a fault, in his/her everyday life he/she will be completely inconsiderate. They also have no concept of safety or risk. This leads to many activities that could result in forest fires:

1. Throwing down lighted cigarettes either while walking or driving about. An example seen a few days ago was a motorcyclist who had stopped at the side of the road, in the shade of some trees, for a cigarette. Instead of dropping it on the tarmac road and standing on it he flicked it into the dry grass at the side of the road. This was during the period that all the fires were blazing and TV was wall-to-wall coverage of the tragedy.
2. Starting fires to burn rubbish even though it is illegal throughout the summer. Last September our neighbour had a roaring fire going in her garden to get rid of tree cuttings etc. The garden is part of an orange grove that runs into other orange groves stretching for kilometres. It was quite a windy day and at the time helicopters were flying overhead to put out a nearby forest fire.
3. Starting fires to burn off stubble from harvested fields even though this is illegal at any time. I have seen this lead to flames working their way up the entrance to a petrol station, which everybody seemed to ignore including the petrol station owner. They usually do this at night.
4. Having barbeques in wooded areas.
5. Dropping litter everywhere.
6. Carrying out high-risk activities with no fire cover. A couple of years ago a large fire was started above Skines by a team resurfacing the road with tarmac. To anybody who has seen this being done it is obvious that there is a high risk of igniting anything combustible. To do it in a forested area with dry grass right up to the edge of the road without any form of fire fighting equipment on site is criminal but illustrates the lack of awareness of risk.

I have said it before, but when given the choice of explaining some event by a conspiracy theory or a cock-up theory I opt for the cock-up theory every time. Sixty years experience has taught me that there are far more stupid people out there capable of cocking things up than there are clever people capable of conspiring. I am willing to bet a bottle of Glen Morangie that in August 2008 there will be forest fires in Greece in which people will die and which will be blamed on arsonists, especially developers. And 2009 and 2010 and…..

I am sorry if this seems callous but I think it is important to deal with the realities of life not the might-have-beens. As long as the general population can blame a few arsonists then they don’t need to modify their own behaviour. If people are forced to accept that it might be something they have done in their everyday life then they might have to feel some responsibility.


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The fires the response the blame.

Postby Assimilate » Wed Aug 29, 2007 12:38 pm

The recent fires have been shocking and the death toll horrific. The current political parties are busy blaming each other, arsonists, terrorist, or whoever. The apportion of blame is not the important thing here and they are missing the point by a long way.

What they should be doing is saying how they will prevent tragedies in the future. Not the tragedy of fire, a natural and necessary ecological phenomenon, but the tragedy of the loss of human life, homes and livelihoods.

Fires are necessary to forests. Plants regenerate; some even use fires to germinate. Clearing the forest floors allow new saplings to grow and even prevent worse fires. Fires clear out vegetation and plants that are not fire resilient. Mismanagement of the forests leads to the fires being as bad as they were this year. We can’t stifle the fires and put them out for good, we need to learn to live with them.

We need to educate people on how accidental fires are started. Use television. advertising. Make it a social embarrassment to litter and throw cigarettes.
Educate people on how they can give there houses a better chance in a fire; Simple landscaping methods around the house; Clearing of rubbish and dead vegetation; store firewood away from the house and not under it etc. Most homes are inviting fire simply by lack of knowlege on how to protect them.
Enforce existing laws to stop people burning rubbish in the high risk months.

Use controlled fires to burn areas each year to ‘help’ the ecosystem regenerate and remove dead vegetation from forests.
Make all forest land state owned and under the control of the forest services. This will remove the burn to build arson element and protect our forests for our children
Change the laws for construction. Knock down all the illegal buildings. No more amnesties. Bring in laws for quality of fire-retardant material use in all new properties and enforce the laws.
Create landscaped fire resistant areas around villages and disallow all building in those areas. Enforce the law.
Start a project to put all power lines under ground.

Basically spend money on prevention and management that we spend on response. Prevention is better than cure.

The arrest of an arsonist doesn’t stop the fire. It may make someone feel better but it solves nothing. The political parties need to stop blaming each other and criminals and look for solutions that work.

Just to emphasize what im trying to say

The potential for survival or destruction of a home in a wildfire is largely a result of the choices homeowners make - whether the structure is built with fire survival in mind and what kind of surroundings the homeowner maintains. Government can improve the survivability of structures through things like building codes and regulation but ultimately, the survival of homes isn't determined by conditions in the nearby forest, and is the responsibility of the property owner.

Studies show for homes with non-flammable roofs, those clear of dense vegetation for an area of 30 feet or more had a probability of survival of from 86% to 95%.

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Postby Eleni13 » Wed Aug 29, 2007 2:29 pm

Useful comment Assimilate.

One other thing that could be helpful- a campaign to remind people that discarded bottles, even plastic ones can act as a lens to focus the sun's rays & start a fire.

We regularly clear up rubbish of all sorts from our patch of forest. Some of the objects people leave behind them have to be seen to be believed.

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Postby paulh » Wed Aug 29, 2007 4:46 pm

Just an additional point

There will be torrential rains in late Sept/October, there always are. With the denuded land after the burning there will be mudslides and significant erosion. What is needed urgently now are significant moves to combat that. Obviously with so little time only some can be done but every bit helps. Perhaps, and its a bit of a hope that because of the short timespan before the rains are due some of the rooting systems will still be alive and hold the soil together better than had it been a couple of months.

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