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The 2007 Greek forest fires were a series of massive forest fire that broke out in several areas across Greecemarker throughout the summer of 2007. The most destructive and lethal infernos broke out on August 23, expanded rapidly and raged out of control until August 27, until they were put out in early September. The fires mainly affected western and southern Peloponnesemarker as well as southern Euboeamarker. The death toll in August alone stood at 67 people. In total 84 people lost their lives because of the fires, including several fire fighters.

Some of these firestorms are believed to be the result of arson while others were indeed the result of mere negligence. Hot temperatures, that included three consecutive heat waves of over 40 °C (105 °F), and severe drought rendered the 2007 summer unprecedented in modern Greek history. From the end of June to early September, over 3,000 forest fires were recorded across the nation. Nine more people were killed in blazes in June and July.

A total of 2,700 square kilometers (670,000 acres) of forest, olive groves and farmland were destroyed in the fires, which was the worst fire season on record in the past 50 years. Of the total of 2,700 km², 1,500 km² (370,000 acres) were burnt forests in Southern Greece alone. Many buildings were also destroyed in the blaze. The fire destroyed 1,000 houses and 1,100 other buildings, and damaging hundreds more.

Timeline

June

View of the Parnitha National Park fire from north Athens


The first major fire of the summer of 2007 was started on June 28, 2007. It is perceived to have been started by either an exploding electrical pylon or by arsonists. Significant parts of the Parnithamarker National Park were destroyed, and in total, the fire burnt of the core of the national forest in a matter of days. Overall the mountain of Parnitha suffered a burnt area of , making it one of the worst recorded wildfires in Atticamarker since the Pentelimarker fire of July 1995.

The magnitude of the devastation was unforeseen. Environmental studies in Greece report that the Athenianmarker microclimate will significantly change to warmer during the summer season, and flooding is now a very probable danger for the northern suburbs of the city. Mount Parnitha was considered the lungs of Athens; following its considerable burning, both the city and local flora and fauna are expected to feel the consequences. Other affected areas included Pelionmarker, Agiamarker and Melivoiamarker, Skourtamarker, Dafnimarker, and Pylimarker.

July



On 11 July 2007, a fire was sparked at a garbage dump near Agia Paraskevi, Skiathos, and spread across the island. Residents and tourists were forced to evacuate to nearby Troulos, and returned after the fire was put out. More than 100 fires were reported by July 15, 2007, in such locations as Kerateamarker outside of Athensmarker, Peloponnesemarker, and on the Aegean islands of Androsmarker, Eviamarker, Lesbosmarker, and Samosmarker, as well as Cretemarker and the Ionian island of Kefaloniamarker.

In Peloponnese around July 20, 2007, a fire which started from the mountains over the town of Aigiomarker expanded rapidly towards Diakoptomarker and Akratamarker, destroyed a large area of forests and cultivated land. In the same fire many villages were totally or partiallly burned, resulting in the loss of 230 houses and 10 churches; three people lost their lives. A 26-year old farmer and a 77-year old woman were arrested on suspicion of arson concerning the fires in Aigiomarker and Diakoptomarker. The farmer confessed and is currently held in prison.

August



Fires continued, on August 17, 2007 they started to burn on the outskirts of Athensmarker. The fire started from Mt. Pentelimarker and started burning down towards the suburbs. More than sixty fire engines, nineteen planes and helicopters, and hundreds of firefighters as well as locals attempted to hold back the fire. Melisiamarker, Vrilisia, and Penteli city were affected in the blaze that was put out, once winds calmed down.

On August 24, 2007, fires broke out in Peloponnesemarker, Atticamarker and Euboeamarker. In Peloponnese, the fire burnt many villages and accounted for 60 deaths. Six people were reported to have been killed in the town of Areopolimarker. In Zacharomarker, one of the worst hit areas, at least 30 people were found dead by firefighters while searching burning cars and homes.

Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis declared a state of emergency for the whole country and requested help from fellow members of the European Union. Multiple countries responded to the call and sent help. Additionally, 500 Greek soldiers were sent in the affected areas. Another 500 Greek soldiers were called up bringing the total to 1,000 military personnel involved in the fire fighting.

On August 25, 2007, fires broke out on Mount Hymettusmarker and in the suburb of Filotheimarker in Athensmarker. Officials said these fires were the result of arson, as the firefighters found many bottles with gasoline in affected areas. Arson is also suspected for the fires in Peloponnese, as more than 20 fires started at about the same time. Two fires broke out in Kerateamarker and one in Markopoulo Mesogaiasmarker in East Attica on August 25, 2007. The first fire was not under control until the following day, while the second was put out quickly. The Keratea fire had a length of and a man was hospitalised with second degree burns.

Olympia



Olympiamarker, site of the ancient Olympics and World Heritage Site, was evacuated on August 26, 2007. Fears were expressed for the survival of the ruins of ancient Olympiamarker lying near the raging fire. The famous statue of Hermes of Praxiteles and nearby antiquities were spared from the fire, but the yard of the museum where the statue is housed was scorched. According to the official statement of former Minister of Culture Georgios Voulgarakis, no serious damage was caused to the antiquities. The fire burnt all the trees on the hilltop above, and an area of brush and open space adjacent to the Olympic Academy. The fire did not damage the archaeological museum nor did it damage the several ancient structures in the area. "The wider archaeological space of Olympia remains intact," stated Mr. Voulgarakis. Despite the Minister's claims, it has been established, as of August 26, that the afflicted damage is of greater importance and scale; the sacred Hill of Kronos was totally burnt during the blaze. The hill was left blackened, but will soon be reforested. New Culture Minister Michalis Liapis has stated that 3,200 bushes and saplings will be planted on the Hill of Kronos, to return the area to its previous appearance.

September

The fires continued to burn into early September. On September 1, 2007, firefighters were still suppressing a strong blaze in Peloponnesemarker. Three blazes remained, with the fires destructive path continuing in Arcadiamarker and Mt.marker Parnonmarker in Laconiamarker. Then, on September 3, 2007 a lightning strike started a new fire on Mt. Vermion, which was soon brought under control by firefighters. On September 5 the death toll reached 67, and on September 21 reached 68.

International assistance

When the August fires broke out, Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis requested help from the members of the European Union and other nations. The following countries offered help, but some offers were refused:

  • – Two helicopters, two planes, one transport plane, and 20 firefighters.
  • - Four Canadair CL-215 water bombers and two spotter planes from the provinces of Albertamarker and Manitobamarker and one Martin Mars bomber along with a Cessna L-19 spotter plane from British Columbiamarker have been offered, but not yet accepted from the Greek government.
  • - Two Canadair CL-415 firefighting aircraft.
  • – 12 firefighting vehicles, 98 firefighters, 29 civil defense personnel.
  • – One helicopter with a five member crew. (Declined.)
  • – Six firefighting all-terrain vehicles, which are able to scale steep slopes.
  • – Three helicopters, 25 firefighters and 2-3 forest fire experts. (Declined as the equipment was not suitable - Finland assisted in reconstruction instead.)
  • – Four Canadair CL-215 water-tanker planes, 60 firefighters who specialize in helicopter operations, six firefighting vehicles.
  • – Three CH-53 water-carrying helicopters.
  • – Two fire engines, 18 firefighters, one doctor, as well as additional equipment.
  • – Three helicopters and 55 firefighters.
  • – One Canadair water-tanker plane.
  • – Three firefighting vehicles, 26 professional firefighters and 60 members of the Protection and Rescue Directorate were made available, but were sent back by border guards.
  • – Three Eurocopter AS 532 firefighting helicopters and 27 crew members.
  • – One Bell 214 firefighting helicopter.
  • – One Canadair CL-215 water-tanker plane and six personnel.
  • – One Mil Mi-17 helicopter with a nine member crew and one airplane.
  • – Five Kamov Ka-27 helicopters, six Mil Mi-26 helicopters, two Mil Mi-8 helicopters, and a Beriev Be-200 water-tanker plane.
  • – Six M-18 Dromader and one Antonov An-2 firefighting planes, 6 firefighting all-terrain vehicles and 55 firefighters. The army was on alert for deployment to assist. City of Novi Sadmarker sent a team of 11 firefighters.
  • – One water-carrying helicopter.
  • – Two Canadair CL-215 water-tanker planes.
  • – One Bell-205 firefighting helicopter.
  • – Four Eurocopter Super Puma water-carrying helicopters.
  • – One firefighting aircraft.


List of affected areas

Rapidfire – NASA image taken on 22 August, before the fires
Rapidfire – NASA image of the fires, taken on 23 August
Rapidfire – NASA image of the fires, taken on 24 August
Rapidfire – NASA image of the fires, taken on 25 August
Rapidfire – NASA image of the fires, taken on 26 August




Aftermath

Alleged arson

The former Minister for Public Order, Vyron Polydoras, stated the fires may be a result of terrorist attacks, as many of the fires started simultaneously and in places where an arsonist could not be seen. He also stated that the country is facing an asymmetric threat, a military term used for terrorist attacks.

While some fires are believed to have been caused by environmental factors, others clearly were not. The fires could have been deliberately put as a way to get around Greek law which forbids property development on areas designated as forest land and to pull benefit from Greece's unique position as the only EU country without a full land registry system. A substantial reward has been offered for anyone providing information which leads to the arrest of an arsonist.

Greek police announced the capture of three arson suspects: A 65-year old man from Areopolismarker was charged with arson and murder relating to the fire which killed at least 6 in this area. Also, in northern Kavalamarker, two youths have been detained on suspicion of arson. Greek government press minister Theodoros Roussopoulos confirmed on August 27 that 61 people had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in arson, seven of these being retained in custody.

On August 27, 2007, PASOK leader George Papandreou accused the government of insinuating that his party is involved in the fires and called on Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis to produce any evidence that would support there was such an organized plan. Heavy criticism directed towards the government for its handling of the crisis, with the Greek press forming a chorus in ridiculing the incompetence of the country's officials, was accentuated in September by the reported discovery of steps aimed at giving a green light to property developers in the ravaged region.

Consequences

View of Parnitha a month after the major fires.


On August 25, Super League Greece and the Hellenic Football Federation decided to postpone the opening fixtures scheduled for that weekend due to the fires. Campaigning for the country's forthcoming general election was suspended for a short period of time. The vote was not postponed since this is not allowed under the current Constitution.

The destruction that was caused by the fires is expected to have a large financial impact to the areas affected by the fires. Originally the estimated amount was about 1.5 billion euro in immediate damages. The amount has now risen to 2 billion euros ($2.9 billion). The cumulative financial impact after taking into consideration the loss of national income due to the destruction of the local agricultural infrastructure and the potentially negative impact on local tourism is estimated around 5 billion euro or more.

The status of Olympiamarker for the 2008 Summer Olympics flame-lighting ceremony is threatening to undermine the whole ceremony. The Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC) has warned that the delays in the reforestation process will undermine the whole ceremony. The HOC states, "Unless it drastically improves in the coming period, (Olympia's) present image will constitute global defamation for Greece."

Financial assistance

Due to the unprecedented scale of the destruction many of the country's leading banks, businesses, institutions and local administrations have offered considerable amounts of cash in order to help the people and businesses that suffer financially due to the fires. The government has created a special account in all Greek banks, where financial help in relief of the people affected by the fire from all over the world is accepted. Additionally, financial aid from the EU is expected. Forms of assistance in nature were also offered such as olive plants contributed by a Turkishmarker municipality and businessmen to a collect already organized in Mytilenemarker. The Greek Governmentmarker plans to spend 645.7 million euros ($946.7 million) to restore and rehabilitate areas burnt by the fires. This amount will be provided by both the European Union and the Greek Government. The government has earmarked 150 million euros ($222 million) to help the people affected by the fire rebuild their homes and other buildings. The rapid nature of the response given in the form of a direct aid scheme free of red tape led to official claims in reverse a year after the calamity, as it has been the case for the residents of Ileia who were notified to return the aid payments. Opposition parties, in the meantime, accused the government of using the scheme to “buy” the votes of locals in the weeks before the Greek legislative election, 2007.

The Cypriot Governmentmarker along with J&P ABAX have pledged to rebuild the town of Artemida. They have currently signed an 8.5 million euro contract, which includes the construction of 80 structures of which 48 will be residential. The overall cost of the project is expected to be 14.5 million euro.

On February 20, 2008 UEFA president Michel Platini presented the Hellenic Football Federation with a CHF1m cheque to help finance the rebuilding of football facilities damaged by the fires in Greecemarker last summer.

The European Union has proposed 89.7 million euros in aid to Greece to offset part of the cost of the 2007 forest fires. The grant will be used to reimburse the costs of rescue services, provision of temporary housing, cleaning up of disaster-stricken areas, and the restoration of basic infrastructures to working condition. Furthermore, the EU created a 600 member team of European firefighters to combat continental forest fires, as a response to the 2007 summer forest fires in Southern Europe.

Reforestation

The Hill of Kronos in May 2008.


The Greek Government has urged regional authorities to start replanting large areas burnt by the summer forest fires. The government under Kostas Karamanlis has pledged that all burnt forests will be restored and protected from legal development. Full Replanting is expected to start after a reforestation study by forestry experts that is to be completed by December. Plans included anti-erosion measures and extensive replanting in the hardest hit prefectures of Arcadiamarker, Achaiamarker, Ilia, Corinthmarker, Laconiamarker, Messiniamarker, and Evia. The Hill of Kronos which was totally burnt by the fires will be replanted with bushes and saplings. These bushes and saplings will include laurel bushes, oaks, olive trees, and other indigenous species.

See also



References



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