Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

Floges and togas — Greece afire

The first time I heard the word ‘φλογα’ used with frequency was during Athens 2004, when the modern Olympic Games finally returned home.

Lit by the sun and kept burning throughout the Games, it symbolizes the divine fire stolen from Zeus by Prometheus in mythology and kept burning at the altar of Hestia in Ancient Olympia. In 2004, the Olympic flame was accidentally extinguished by a gust of wind the night before its global relay.

Three years later, as I watch Ancient Olympia burning and gale force winds exacerbate flames that are seemingly eternal, ‘φλογα’ has come to symbolize something very real and different.

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List of Major Fires, from Athens to Zacharo

By no means is this an exhaustive list of every fire in Greece, but these were/are the major ones listed in chronological order. Clicking each one brings you to a related article I sourced from the Kathimerini, Athens News or BBC.

Mani and Halkidiki

Mount Parnitha

Athens, Elounda (Crete), Larisa, Pindus Mountains, Poros, Samos and Zakynthos

Mount Pelion

Crete

Skiathos

Andros, Evia, Keratea, Lesvos and Seikh Sou Forest (near Thessaloniki)

Imittos (Athens)

Ancient Corinth, Dervenaki and Zakynthos

Kefallonia

Athens, Patra, Penteli (Athens), Rafina and Vrillisia

Mount Parnassos, Salamina (near Piraeus) and Stamata (Athens)

Penteli (Athens) again

Mandra (west of Athens)

Zacharo

Arta, Elefsina, Evia, Ioannina, Kastoria, Lakonia and Messinia

Olympia

Ilieas

Kefallonia (again)

Kerkyra (Corfu)

Papagou, Imittos (Athens) again

What Greece was promised

In 2004, New Democracy made promises that impacted this summer’s events, but kept only three:

x Organize NGO and private sector participation in policy planning

Create nationwide zoning plan
(Implementation and enforcement are different matters)

x Reduce air pollution

x Manage traffic environmentally

Create green spaces in cities
(Likely due to Athens 2004, but still insufficient. i.e. Schinias and the old Athens airport at Helleniko)

Promote recycling
(Marginally successful)

x Compile forest registry
(The most recent battle broke out in May 2007, stalling forward progress)

x Increase firefighting measures

x Increase reforestation rates

Years ago, Independent MP Stephanos Manos proposed a plan to green areas of Athens to disperse pollution, instead of creating one large park in Helleniko — his plan was labeled “radical” and never materialized, much like the park now scheduled for completion by 2012.

Back in March, the ministry stated that 109 million euros would be spent on improving road networks in forest areas and clearing some or all vegetation in areas around campsites, power stations and other buildings to avert the breakout of fires in the summer months.

Back in May, the general secretariat for civil protection announced that it would issue a daily color-coded map denoting areas of forest fire risk on a scale of 1 to 5 during fire season — May 1 to October 30. It is unclear whether pertinent information reached the right people and if resources were actually made available to lower the risk.

What can be done now?

No matter who or what is responsible, spending time and energy on assigning blame and making excuses is pointless — the past is over and cannot be changed. What empowers people is the knowledge of what can be done now and in the future. It is your choice to be part of the solution or not.

All action, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction.

For residents:

1. Don’t flick cigarettes out the car window while driving or on the ground near dried grass, paper or plants — Many forest fires are started this way

2. Don’t burn garbage

3. Make certain that roasting/cooking fires are controlled — Keep an eye on burning ashes, coals or kindling that can fly away or make contact with grass, brush, etc.

4. Request or lodge a complaint that your municipality trim trees away from power lines or remove dried brush that pose a fire hazard if you cannot do it yourself

5. Face mirrors away from direct sunlight

6. Homes in rural and remote areas should be armed with fire extinguishers, a water reserve with hose/pump, wool blankets, ladder, rakes, brooms, boots and a first aid kit. Some people also put important documents, photos and other valuables in a fireproof safe, just in case.

7. Be alert and report suspicious activity to authorities — Police and rangers are understaffed, they need your help to keep the country and your home safe. A one million euro reward is also being offered by the Alpha channel

8. Support responsible reforestation and treeplanting — Cleanup Greece, Plant Your Roots in Greece and other organizations have programs with scheduled plantings in carefully selected areas of need. Forest Protection Volunteers of Attica (EDASA) also appreciates volunteers. 12 Ag. Konstantinou Street, 104 31 Omonia, Tel: (210) 520-0680. Email: edasa@otenet.gr or skrem@panteion.gr

9. Donate to a special fund — Individuals wishing make donations can visit the branch of any commercial bank and make a deposit to Account no. 2341103053 of the Bank of Greece.

10. Vote — If you’re a Greek citizen who thinks your vote doesn’t matter, think again. Use your power to choose someone that can change Greece and the course of your life. If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain for the next 4 years.

People are recommended against going to affected areas to help because it blocks roads and puts inexperienced untrained people at risk. Should more people be injured and die, it only puts more stress on overworked firefighting and emergency personnel.

For Greeks and Philhellenes abroad:

Endorsed by the World Council of Hellenes Abroad, American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association and the Hellenic American National Council, “Plant Your Roots in Greece” accepts donations and initiates careful plantings to reforest Greece. See their donation info or PDF.

AHEPA also set up an emergency relief fund, but is now closed to donations. My personal experience with this reputable and active organization has been nothing but positive.

There is nothing more you can do to help, but pray for those who are affected. The EU has sent professionally trained personnel, along with the necessary firefighting equipment to assist Greece.

Travel to Greece

If you have an upcoming trip to Greece, you must decide if you feel safe and wish to continue living your life as planned. I traveled abroad from New York a few days after 9/11 because I felt no imminent threat, while many canceled their flights. It’s a uniquely personal choice.

Many areas are affected, many are not. There have been fires nearly every day in Athens since the end of June and at no time was the airport or the country of Greece closed for business. It is still a beautiful country, and your tourism could fuel this country’s recovery for which the people of Greece would be grateful.

Personal note

Being an advocate of environmental issues and a resident Philhellene, I struggled to organize objective information while staving off emotions such as anger, frustration and despair. I become quiet when I see other people in pain, and today I’ve been very quiet.

In the News

Fighting Greek fire” — The Economist

Greece convicts an elderly woman who started a fire accidentally while cooking outdoors, a fireman, a local mayor, a regional governor and a fire brigade official for failing to take precautionary measures in fire prevention. In other words, the wrong people were convicted and the real perpetrators are still at large.

Photos from NASA and the BBC

20 Comments

  graffic wrote @ August 27th, 2007 at 05:12

Mobile phones attached to cans containing flammable things are terrorist attacks, arsons, not forestal fires.

Three weeks before elections thousands of small spots start to burn, killing people in the way. If politics are not in this… I just need an explanation.

BTW: I heard something an anti-terrorist force finding something in Ag. Paraskevi

  rositta wrote @ August 27th, 2007 at 05:24

You know with all these fires burning the first thing that came to mind was terrorism. I am sick when I see the news about what is happening there. We have a cabin in the bush and there are incredibly strict burning regulations with large enforced fines during dry times. I am very very sad when I hear of the people that have died…ciao friend

  NYC wrote @ August 27th, 2007 at 15:45

The CBS broadcast yesterday showed a video of arsonists at work: men standing alone on a mountainside, then moments after they leave, smoke is visible.

It’s sick to think this is all being done in advance of the next election, but that’s what people think.

  melusina wrote @ August 27th, 2007 at 21:53

Fire safety kits with the items you mentioned, fire safety seminars – for people in forested village areas, etc., could make a huge difference. It seems that there is a lot of ignorance when it comes to fires that leads to catastrophe (ie. the woman cooking outdoors, or people flinging cigarettes, etc.). A little education and some funding towards fire safety kits could really help in some of these places.

But when it comes to arson, I honestly don’t know what can be done. Harsher penalties for those caught, sure, but it seems like a horrible tradition in Greece. You just have to wonder, of all the fires that started this summer, how many could have been prevented?

  A Greek in America wrote @ August 27th, 2007 at 23:39

Thank you for this comprehensive guide, which I added to my web site, GreekFires.com, translated into Greek & linked back here. It is important that people get informed about prevention and its benefits instead of tackling the issue after it has become a sizable obstacle.

  arammos wrote @ August 28th, 2007 at 00:41

Now we must help… we must help. Nothing more nothing less.

  Global Voices Online » Greece: On Fire wrote @ August 28th, 2007 at 01:17

[…] an American living in Greece, published a comprehensive post about what is taking place, a lists of major fires, the events leading up to  it, and what can […]

  graffic wrote @ August 28th, 2007 at 01:59

From a national newspaper (spanish one): The ones who burn Spain.

– 31% of the fires: irresponsible farmers (13% of the area burned).
– 21%: thoughtless livestock farmer (26% of the area)
– 2%: The bad hunter (4% area)
– 7%: The unwise citizen (8% area)
– 7%: The arsonist (5% area)
– 3%: The guy with social problems (5% area)
– 0,6%: The guy with personal interests (0,3% area)
– 3%: The VIP (7% area).

This is a report from Greenpeace Spain 2007. I guess in Greece the arsonists gained some percent :(

  Kat wrote @ August 28th, 2007 at 07:21

I don’t doubt there is something amidst, however I’ve been living here too long to assign blanket blame to conspiracy. This is never the only reason for why things happen — i.e. placing second in Eurovision (Sakis Rouvas) in Turkey or the soccer team performing poorly or the metro failing when the Transport Minister rode to the airport the first time.

If part of it is arson, the human mind is not something we can “solve.” But I have a few questions. Is it really arson? Or is it someone playing out a bitter feud between families and fingerpointing his rival? Will actual evidence be produced to support these arrests, which purportedly have no criminal element (i.e. an old woman with a BBQ)? How many times in the past have arrests been made, only to not stick? Will the Greek justice system truly bring people to justice in the end and how many years/decades will that take? (i.e. Nov 17). I’d rather see the time and money spent on helping people than investigating alleged and/or imaginary crimes.

Even in the unlikely case of arson, this does not absolve the government of its full responsibility for the people they profess to protect. They are failing the people of Greece. They took our votes, they took our money, they raise our taxes, they took EU funds, they made us promises and in return they gave us NOTHING. It is less than insulting to tell someone their house is only worth 3,000 euros and a human life is only worth 10,000 euros, while millions stand in the wings either unused or diverted to other “interests.” And how do they have the nerve to fly to Brussels and ask the EU for 1.5 billion more? Please. Isn’t there someone in this country with b@!!s who will do the decent thing and be accountable, or at the very least apologize? At least earn our respect, even if you’ve lost our trust.

The people of Greece are strong and will help each other get through this, even if our government will not. We’re used to it.

  buruburu wrote @ August 28th, 2007 at 11:17

I don’t buy the assymetrical threat/conspiracy theories. Typical Greek reaction of blaming someone else for our problems. This was going to happen eventually, it was only a matter of time. I’m sure arsonists played a role, but only a small one, probably with the Ymettus fire. But burning down all of ilia, where’s the economic angle in that? According to SKAI news since June there have been 33 arrests of which 16 where due to negligence. That’s half. I believe the heat wave and winds were a huge catalyst and yes peoples negligence provide a spark, but these are things that will always happen and are somewhat predictable. And that’s why I put much of the blame on the government, for lacking a comprehensive plan and it’s becoming clear by now that the ad hoc movements of forces during the past few days are a result of badly organized institutions, which are under funded. Characteristically, a volunteer firefighter yesterday in a talk show attended by the interior minister asked: “we have no idea of the hierarchy involved when setting out to fight fires”. Ironically the residents of rural Greece are partially to blame as well. And this I base on reports of the negligence of people to clear out weeds which help fires move so quickly from one place to another. Where is the local government?

[…] by arsonists. (Or terrorists?) Much worse than the wildfires Georgia suffered earlier this year. An American in Greece has the […]

  rigas wrote @ August 28th, 2007 at 20:06

Your post is excellent.

I agree with you and buruburu. This is not a question of conspiracy.

I was impressed by a small video on French TV showing the french firefighters, and there was a greek firefighter saying he was happy to have professional people intervene.

The whole aspect of managing the close environment is still not a question that Greek people consider important. But I do believe –as the guy from WWF ini Athens declared– that the fires are changing that.

PS With this I discovered both blogs yours and buruburu. Excellent.

I wrote a paper on a journalists website (in FR) on the fires:

  Παναγιώτης wrote @ August 28th, 2007 at 20:43

Hi Kat,
Last March, after an almost dry winter, the PM and one of his ministers were declaring that “all the necessary plans were elaborated to confront the oncoming difficult summer”. And now… at least 60 people dead and unspecified number of missing ones. I thought that Pilio, Parnitha and Korinthia were the apex of their incompetence. It ‘s not just a big fire that burned down a few houses or killed 1-2 people, that is tragic in itself…but what about this? And the only thing you see is these guys arguing on air about who is the less corrupted, while the rest of the world yells: “what the hell is going on there?”, “ours”, are sitting in a round table with arms crossed and discussing things like: “should we blame to the fire squads, the forest service or the opposition for delivering us chaos?” Well, the elections are very close. I hope my compatriots will not forget as easy as they do usually…

[…] versteht sich von selbst; Yazan Badran gibt auf Global Voices eine Zusammenstellung einiger Posts: Californiakat gibt Tipps zur Vermeidung von Waldbränden, die allerdings angesichts der vermutlich meist […]

  ein Steppenwolf wrote @ August 29th, 2007 at 20:53

I admire your excellent blog!

My only disagreement concerns the tenth point. Respect for human rights cannot depend on whether one votes or not.

In Greece, elections offer an excuse for governmental irresponsibility, because when the guys feel they are not “dictators” and rather “democratically elected,” they also feel they can do what most pleases them.

Apart from that, no one of the present political parties, big or small, new or old, seems to meet standards. People who could change the course of the society simply never surface.

Please allow me to recommend you Nikos Dimou’s blog. Judging from the content of your blog, I am sure you would contribute positively to the discussions taking place there.

[…] مدونة اميركية تعيش في اليونان, نشرت موضوع شامل عنما يجري هناك، بلأضافة لقوائم رئيسية للحرائق و […]

  I’ll see you in Greece wrote @ August 30th, 2007 at 05:50

Going to Greece on Tuesday. If there is an “assymetrical threat”, which is not likely, I’ll not let that stop me. I’m not an adventure seeker, but I can’t lock myself in my home and tape plastic to the windows.

Greece is my favorite place to be in the whole world and I’ll be damned if some bogus assymetrical threat is gonna stop me. Greece has much to offer and I hope people don’t start fearing that it’s not a safe place.

Ahh Ellada!!!
See you in Greece!

  Kat wrote @ August 30th, 2007 at 08:10

Buru – Always nice to have an intelligent commentator with an insider’s and world view.

Rigas – The fires are a manifestation of this country’s weak infrastructure, lacking leadership and diminishing power on the economical front, despite being an EU country.

Certainly the fires impact the environment, however the environment is a separate issue that hasn’t been addressed in decades. I believe it’s only this year an environment minister was even appointed/created. I use the title loosely since one of his “accomplishments” was to approve offshore property without first looking at the impact on resources like electricity, water, etc. How can Greece sustain more inhabitants when it can’t even provide power and water for its current population?

Panos – It’s a blaming inferno. Sad.

Steppenwolf – I do agree with you in some respect. Over the last days, I’ve been trying to learn more about the inner workings of Greece’s republic, namely if leaders can be impeached or if citizens are allowed to “write in” a name on a ballot. OK, the answers are ‘no,’ so I can see the voter’s dilemma. I’m not advocating overthrowing the government, but maybe that’s what this country needs. But if it overthrown, who will lead it?

Thank you for the compliment and the reference. I’ve seen his blog before, in fact.

Going to Greece – I’m a lot like you. I’m not an adventure seeker though some call me that; I just believe that if I’m going to die, let it be while I’m out living my life instead of hiding from it.

Welcome back to Greece

[…] ギリシャ在住のアメリカ人CaliforniaKatは、何が起きているのか、主要な火災のリスト、それに至った出来事、そして人びとにどんな手助けができるかなどについて、総合的なエントリーを掲載している。 1. 運転中に車の窓から、または枯れ草、紙、植物が近くにある地面にタバコの吸殻を投げ捨てない − 多くの山林火災はこのようにして起こる。2. ごみを燃やさない。3. ロースト/料理に使う火はきちんと管理する ー 燃えている灰や炭、または飛んでしまったり草や繁みに触れてしまいそうな焚き付けなどから目を離さない。4. 送電線に木が触れないために木を剪定するよう、または火災を起こす原因になるしばを処理するよう、自治体に要請する、または苦情を言う。5. 鏡が直射日光に当たらないようにする。6. 過疎・遠隔地にある家には、消火器、またホース/ポンプ、ウールの毛布、はしご、熊手、ほうき、ブーツ、そして救急用品と一緒に水溜めを備えるべき。また、万が一に備え、大事な書類や写真、その他の貴重品を耐火金庫に入れておく人もいる。 […]

  daniel molitor wrote @ September 5th, 2007 at 20:10

” I just believe that if I’m going to die, let it be while I’m out living my life instead of hiding from it.”

Oh, you don’t know how much that quote has made my day. I just found your site, CK, and it has inspired me. A few more years here in Pasadena, CA, and I hope to begin the transition to Greece. I look forward to scanning all the great information on your site. Evxaristo poli. –daniel

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