Firefighters dealing with 90 wildfires in Greece

Above: A wildfire burns north of Athens, Greece, August 14, 2017.

(Originally published at 2:40 p.m. MDT August 14, 2017)

Numerous wildfires are burning in Greece, with one of them damaging homes and threatening more as it burns through a pine forest north of Athens. The AP reported that about 20 structures were damaged Sunday in the fire near Varnava.

Several fires are burning on the island of Zakynthos where Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis, the MP for Zakytnos, said, “It’s arson according to an organized plan”.

wildfire greece Zakynthos Pyrgos
Wildfires in Greece, August 14, 2017. One is north of Pyrgos and others are on the island of Zakynthos.

Man arrested for allegedly starting fatal wildfire near Athens, Greece

A 28-year-old man has been arrested after his weekend brush-burning around a greenhouse ignited a destructive and deadly wildfire roughly 40 miles outside of Athens, Greece.

The fire, which started Sunday, burned a forested area and charred a house on the outskirts of Agioi Theodoroi, the Associated Press reported.

The victim is believed to have been an elderly woman who was reported missing earlier in the day. Two other people suffered burn-related injuries.

The man is accused of causing a fire through negligence while burning dried-out vegetation next to a greenhouse, the National Herald reported. 


Firefighters battle two large fires in Greece

air crane fire Athens Greece
Air Crane working on the fire near Athens Photo by Dimitris.

Firefighters are battling two large fires in Greece. One has burned near the suburbs of the capital city of Athens where it has moved into a residential area.

A second fire at the southern tip of the Peloponnese in the Laconia area is being pushed by strong winds. Three villages were evacuated and scores of people fled to the beach where the Coast Guard and other vessels were attempting to evacuate them, but those rescue efforts were being hampered by rough seas.

Laconia Fire, Greece
Fire near Laconia, Greece

One of seven air tankers working on the Lakonia fire had to make an emergency landing but the two pilots were not hurt, fire officials said.

Google translated the text in the above tweet (which is a photo of the fire near Athens): “Picture sent by our reader , pulled from the Tower Apollo ( F : Ch.Vasilopoulou )”

Greek fires may change political balance of power

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. 


Air tanker crashes in Greece, killing pilot

From Reuters:

A Greek fire-fighting plane crashed while battling a blaze on the Ionian Sea island of Kefalonia on Thursday, killing the pilot, authorities said.

The accident happened three days after fire fighters managed to bring under control a wildfire that destroyed 150 homes and thousands of hectares of forest and farmland near Athens.

“The death of airforce colonel Stergios Kotoulas has shattered us,” Greek President Karolos Papoulias said. “He fell at the frontline doing his duty, battling the fire.”

The 1983, Polish-made PZL plane crashed nine minutes after taking off from the Kefalonia airport to fight a forest fire, officials said. Nobody else was on board.

The 55-year-old father of two had thousands of hours of flight experience on several types of aircraft.

Our sincere condolences to the family and co-workers of colonel Kotoulas.



Why Athens burned-again

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.