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.