Hundreds of Greeks staged a silent protest in Athens on Friday to condemn the failure of the government to stop the devastating fires that burned into the suburbs of Athens recently. About a thousand protesters assembled in front of the Greek parliament to express their outrage to the scandal-plagued administration that “allowed” a similar fire storm in 2007.
Approximately 65 homes were destroyed and 143 others were damaged in the fires that burned near Athens between Friday and Tuesday of last week.
The two main political parties are about evenly matched in Greece. If the dissatisfaction with the administration caused by the wildfires gains momentum, it could result in many of the current office-holders being replaced by candidates from the opposing party during the next election.
The Wall Street Journal has an editorial about the recent fires near Athens, Greece, written by Costas Synolakis. Here is an excerpt.
ATHENS—The catastrophic fires that raged in Greece for several days and threatened Athens have scorched several of the capital’s hillside suburbs. The images are remarkably similar to those of two years ago, almost to the date. Then, the fires threatened ancient Olympia and torched Mt. Parnes, a once picturesque national park where Athenians took refuge from the summer heat and enjoyed the winter snow. The current fires have burned hundreds of homes and the forested hills that used to filter Athen’s polluted air are no more. In total, 10 major fires have burned Athenian suburbs since 1981.
There are, however, stark differences from the 2007 fires. This time, Greece immediately mobilized the European Union’s Monitoring and Information Center and 10 fire-fighting aircraft from France, Italy, Spain, Cyprus and Turkey joined the battle as quickly as typically slow intra-European logistics allowed. Despite the complexity of the disaster—with heavy winds creating fire tornadoes and hilly terrain dotted with thousands of power lines and buildings—the fires were put out relatively quickly—but at a huge cost.
Compare this with the Italian response during the L’Aquilla earthquake last spring when dozens of people might had been saved if emergency crews from neighboring countries had been allowed to help. In 2007, over 50 people died in the Greek fires, whereas no lives have so far been lost this summer. Partly this is because officials have learned their lessons. The decision to evacuate threatened areas no longer rests with the central government in Athens. Instead, local mayors—who generally followed the advice of firefighters on the ground—have been given the authority to order these emergency measures, and they successfully directed thousands to flee and escape the fires. Patients from a children’s hospital in an at-risk area were transferred well ahead of the advancing flames. For once, disaster plans were implemented as drawn.
And yet there are also stark similarities to the incompetence and mismanagement on display two years ago. There were still few or no forest roads to allow rapid access to burning mountain tops, thus necessitating aerial water drops, which are less precise and more expensive. There are still few or no hydrants in urban forests (and no trained volunteers to use them) and virtually no constant-pressure reservoirs to store water for emergency use.
Dry brush and pine needles had not been cleaned in years, while undeveloped land next to luxury homes contained enough combustible material to power entire village power plants for days. Amateurs were everywhere trying to put out fires, succeeding only in spreading them. Houses now dot high-risk land that burned just a decade ago. Urban planning and zoning is nonexistent for most of the country. Fire crews and reporters alike had trouble locating on maps the obscure names of unincorporated areas developed without permits just a few kilometers from the Acropolis.
Mr. Synolakis is a professor of natural hazards at the Technical University of Crete and director of the Tsunami Research Center at the University of Southern California.
Sikorsky Aircranes scoop water out of the sea on August 24 to help suppress a fire burning near Athens, Greece. Photo: Valerie Gache
The fires that have burned into the suburbs of Athens are contained, according to the Environment News Service. Pushed by very strong winds, the fires burned thousands of hectares and destroyed about 150 homes. No deaths have been reported.
Some of the citizens have criticized the government for a slow response to the fires. A few photos and videos show residents fighting fire in their neighborhoods with buckets of water and tree branches, saying they had not seen a fire truck and they were on their own. Newspaper editorials and mayors of villages have complained about the way the fires were fought.
These were the worst fires since 2007 when 76 people were killed by fires in Greece, many of which were set by arsonists.
A fire burns near Nea Makri village north of Athens on Monday. Photo: Yiorgos Karahalis
A decrease in the wind speeds has given firefighters in Greece a chance to gain more containment over some of the fires that have burned into the northern edges of Athens, the nation’s capital. But thousands of residents in the suburbs had to evacuate as dozens of houses were burnt.
Air tankers from several countries are helping to fight the fires. A state of emergency was declared in eastern Attica over the weekend, where fires have burned numerous homes and blackened 30,000 acres.
According to DW-World.de:
In addition, the European Union mobilized two further planes from its European tactical reserve of fire-fighting aircraft (EUFFTR), said Mann. Established to assist EU member states that face major fires, the EUFFTR makes planes available during the summer in a project costing 3.5 million euros ($5 million).
The EU and EU countries have sent in planes to help put out the flames
“They are being financed by the EU and have been leased from July 1 to September 30,” Mann said. “The idea is to help member states with their own efforts.”
The two EU fire fighting planes are stationed on Corsica, putting them close to both France and Italy and almost exactly halfway between Lisbon and Athens, according to the European Commission.
The planes have already been dispatched five times this summer; most recently to battle the fires in Portugal a few weeks ago.
This video has some good fire footage, including an aerial firefighting tactic not seen in the United States, that of two air tankers making drops in tandem, one right after the other.
Over 10,000 people have evacuated from Agios Stefanos, a suburb of Athens, Greece as a large wildfire approaches the outskirts of the city. Officials declared a state of emergency as fires pushed by strong winds burned for the third day.
Locals run to escape a fire at Grammatiko village. Photo: Yiorgos Karahalis
Earlier two large children’s hospitals were forced to evacuate along with other outlying suburban areas.
From Sky News:
Alexios, a resident of the threatened Athens suburb of Dionysos, told of his scramble to leave his home on web messaging site Twitter.
“Signing off, the power’s out. Fires near Rodopoli (West of Dionysos) and approaching Rapendoza (just East of Dionysos),” he wrote on Saturday evening.
An hour later, he gave the update: “Evacuating Dionysos. Stuck in traffic with two terrrified dogs and hundreds of panicky drivers. Wish me luck.”
Fortunately Alexios was able to reach the city centre. He wrote an hour afterwards: “Escaped the evacuee convoy early, safely in Athens proper (dogs safe too).”
Those who have left their homes now face an anxious wait to see if the flames will engulf their homes.
Here is a video that shows some of the action. It is narrated in a British accent which adds to the drama.
A firefighter works near Agios Stephanos. Photo: Nikolas Giakoumidis
Here is another video. A portion of it is still photos without narration.
European Union activates civil protection mechanism for Greece’s wildfires.
From China View:
BRUSSELS, Aug. 23 (Xinhua) — The European Commission said here Sunday that it has activated the Community Mechanism for Civil Protection following a spreading wildfires in Greece.
The decision was made by the request of Greece after extreme weather conditions fueled the spreading of the fires in the country, the commission said in a statement.
The wildfires continues to spread on Sunday in areas near Athens, forcing hundreds of residents to flee their homes.
Italy immediately sent two Canadair CL-415 amphibian water-bombing aircrafts to assist in putting out the fires, the statement said.
In addition, upon a request by the Monitoring and Information Center (MIC), France is ready to mobilize two Canadair CL-215 airplanes of the European tactical reserve of fire fighting aircraft (EUFFTR), which was established this summer to assist member states facing major fires.
Cyprus offered to send a fire fighting helicopter, according to the commission.