Many deaths in Greek forest fires; caused by speculators?


This video from CNN in the USA is called The Greece Fire part 1 of 2.

By Markus Salzmann:

Over 60 die as forest fires sweep Greece

Inferno, apocalypse and “hell on earth” are some of the terms which have been used to describe the devastating forest fires which have been raging in Greece since last Friday, and which have so far claimed at least 63 victims, including children.

Hundreds of persons have been taken to hospitals suffering from burns and smoke poisoning. The fires are the region’s worst in decades. A state of emergency and a three-day-long state mourning period for the victims were proclaimed last Saturday.

In addition to the mainland, in the region around the capital Athens, the Peloponnese peninsula and the largest Greek island, Euboea, have been hit. Dozens of villages are surrounded by flames; 15 have already been completely evacuated.

Most victims died trying to protect their houses and property from the flames. Others died trying to escape from villages encircled by fire. The village of Artemida in the west of Peloponnese was most badly hit. Here the fire claimed 30 lives.

On Sunday, the fire disrupted the country’s most important railway connection, between Athens and the port of Thessaloniki. Only a huge effort by the fire brigade and fire-fighting airplanes prevented the flames from spreading to the historical town of Olympia—home of the Olympic Games. Nevertheless, the flames damaged an excavation area in the proximity. …

On Sunday, a longstanding letter of complaint from the fire brigade of Sparta to the responsible ministry in Athens was made public. The letter pointed out the complete inadequacy of fire brigade staff and made clear that for financial reasons, no new staff had been hired for years. In addition, vehicles and equipment were in a deplorable condition. Most vehicles are older than 15 years, barely functional, and in need of constant repair.

In order to quash demands for increased funding for public safety, the government removed the entire top layer of management of the fire brigade last year. Experienced officials were replaced by [Rightist prime Minister] Karamanlis supporters on the basis of party membership. Some of the replacements lacked any appropriate background or qualifications. …

Property speculators are thought to be behind many of the fires. Forest areas are ignited, upon which properties are subsequently illegally erected and then officially registered by corrupt local authorities. This method is well known and, according to estimates, is the cause of dozens of fires every year.

The Greek Federation of Architects estimates that some 100,000 properties have been erected in Greece on such illegally acquired developmental land. The majority the constructions are mansions, and it is now presumed that foreign speculators are also participating in such real estate practices, employing impoverished youth or local petty criminals to ignite the fires.

See also here.

And here.

Update: here.

Greek election results: here.

Dozens die in Portugal’s worst-ever forest fire. Portugal has the highest proportion of forest area in Europe, most of which is in private hands and poorly managed, abandoned or planted with acres of highly flammable Eucalyptus trees: here.

6 thoughts on “Many deaths in Greek forest fires; caused by speculators?

  1. Greece fears fires hit rare animals and plants
    31 Aug 2007 15:43:24 GMT
    Source: Reuters

    By Robin Pomeroy

    ATHENS, Aug 31 (Reuters) – The thousands of Greek villagers forced to escape flames that raged across Greece over the last week were not the only ones on the run.

    Animals also fled for their lives and conservationists fear that, like the 63 human victims of the worst forest fires in memory, many of them did not make it to safety.

    Vast tracts of forest have been destroyed by the blazes, reducing living space and hunting grounds for wildlife and creating longer-term environmental hazards.

    “We don’t know what’s happened to the golden jackals, whether they died or had a chance to get away,” said Dimitris Karavellas of WWF (World Wildlife Fund) Greece.

    Although not an endangered species globally, the jackals, with their reddish-yellow fur, were a key part of the fauna in the rugged mountains of the Peloponnese peninsula, a unique eco-system which will take years to recover from the fires.

    The chunk of southern Greece, which is effectively an island as it is cut from the mainland by the Corinth canal, contains some of Greece’s most valued natural landscapes.

    “It’s not totally burned, but because space there is restricted, for animals like foxes and rabbits, there is nowhere for them to go,” said Greenpeace’s Nikos Charalambides.

    With some fires still burning and the immediate priorities restoring power and housing thousands of homeless, no one has yet assessed the extent of the damage, but conservationists said they feared some rare species might have been wiped out.

    “A big part of Mount Taygetos has burned,” Charalambides said, referring to the Peloponnese mountain range which rises to 2,404 metres (7,887 ft) above sea level.

    “It’s seen as one of the jewels, one of our most important forest areas and it has 21 endemic species of plants which are not found anywhere else in the world.”

    Vast swathes of pine forest, home to birds of prey and wild boar were also razed by the flames. That is not just bad news for the animals who lived there, but might also pose an on-going environmental risk.

    Kalamata, a city which gave its name to the dark olives which remain an agricultural staple of the region, could be at risk of flooding now that the vegetation which once absorbed rainwater in the nearby mountains has gone, said Charalambides.

    The area might also suffer changes to its local micro-climate, he said.

    “The green used to cool the area and spread humidity, now there’s just a black box which will absorb heat by day and let it out at night, making life tougher for people who live there.”

    For the wildlife, the one good news from the fires is that local authorities have banned hunting in what is usually peak season in order to spare the surviving creatures any further carnage.

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