Foreign and local media called Sunday the third day of a fiery hell, a catastrophe of biblical proportions, but those intimately familiar with Greece can tell you this is a continuation of wildfires occurring nearly every day of every summer. In the last 30 days alone, fires were recorded in:
22 — Irakleio (Crete), Evia, Ileias, Imitto, Parnitha
23 — Anavissos, Imittos, Parnitha, Ano Glyfada, Thiva, Neochoraki
24 — Livadia, Ierapetra
27 — Zakynthos, Karystos, Evia, Monemvasia, Koroni, Spata, Nikaia,
28 — Zakynthos, Samo, Aspropyrgo, Keratea, Skopelo, Eleussis, Aigaleo, Sounio
29 — Samo, Skopelo, Koropi, Panormos, Magnesia, Corinth, Karystos, Marmari
30 — Evia, Paianias
31 — Mytilini
1 — Panorama (Corinth), Levidou, Loutraki,
2 — Kavala, Papagou, Arcadia
3 — Kavala, Levidou
4 — Aigiio, Koropi, Pilio
8 — Marathona, Grammatiko, Zakynthos, Samos,
9 — Ag. Nikolaos (Crete), Keratea, Megara, Monemvasia
10 — Chios, Kouvara (Attica)
12 — Karystos, Igoumenitsa, Paramythia, Xelidona
15 — Igoumenitsa
16 — Megara, Zakynthos, Keratea
17 — Zakynthos, Avlona, Thebes, Corinth
18 — Kavala, Hania (Crete), Kythira
19 — Samo, Porto Rafti, Thiva, Markopoulo, Kalyvia
*20 — Achaia, Anthousa, Magoula, Paleochori, Astako, Marathona, Markopoulo, Kefallonia, Kavala, Limnos, Loutraki, Thesprotia, Aitoloakarnania, Zakynthos
21 — Magoula, Zakynthos, Megalopoli (Ileia), Parnitha, Arta, Kalamo, Zakynthos, Kapandriti, Grammatiko
22 — Grammatiko, Kalamos, Dionysos, Zakynthos, Varnavas, Skyros, Marathonas, Stamata, Rodopoli, Lefktra Voiotia, Ag. Stefanos, Karysto, Kaletzi, Limnos, Rhodes, Nafplio
23 — Dionyso, Ag. Stefanos, Lefktra Voiotia (no firefighting personnel), Rodopoli, Penteli, Drosia, Drafi, Stamata, Salamina, Karysto, Patra, Skyro, Zakyntho, Varnava, Pallini, Souli, Pikermi, Marathona, Nea Makri, Geraka, Anthousa, Anixi, Schoinia, Porto Germeno (Kithairona), with fires heading toward Ekali and the last forests of Parnitha
If you didn’t know about these fires, chances are you can’t read Greek or don’t keep up with Greek news for whatever reason. English-language newspapers have limited space in their editions, and editors are forced to exercise editorial judgment, so anyone depending on them for a full picture of Greece will have incomplete knowledge at best.
If a tree can’t scream for help, is it really on fire?
It was Thursday when I felt it, the same feeling I had almost two years ago to the day, when wildfires became an inferno over the weekend. The difference between now and 2007 is weather and location. We had a fair amount of rain this winter, temperatures are moderate for end of August though winds are high, and most fires are concentrated in Athens.
It was Friday night when I could smell it, and it wasn’t the gentle aroma of a neighbor’s fire roasting meat for dinner, but the full-on scent of smoke from scorched earth and olive trees. As I closed the window, I was haunted by the words, “You let Greece turn to ashes.”
I awoke to a yellowish-gray sky and asphalt that somehow looked blacker, and that’s how I knew. Memories of 2007 came flooding back.
What I heard could very well have been recorded newscasts from two years ago, with the same script read by relatively the same players. The Mayor of Marthonas recalling how his municipality attempted to clear brush and build anti-fire zones, but Head of Civil Protection Margaritis Mouzas put a stop to it. Mouzas telling SKAI TV that he was on the ground of affected areas, and fires in the region are “a small problem.” Firefighters being asked to pay road tolls, Greece refusing help from Russia and Austria, people pleading for help, media squawking arson, a government spokesman blaming pine trees, politicians condemning the other. ‘Παπαγάλλο’ is a word used in Greece to describe the government because a parrot repeats the same thing without thinking. Reruns.
What I saw was also the same. Volunteer firefighters rushing to the scene and finding water tanks full but without a hose to connect. Lack of coordination between national and local authorities. A state of emergency that officially mobilizes units and military from other regions of Greece was not declared until shortly before 13:00 Saturday, though it was clear the fire was out of control by Friday morning. Underfunded, understaffed and underpaid firefighting personnel and military doing the best they can, fighting both fires and obstacles created by the Greek state, which hasn’t equipped them with a plan and the tools to effectively do their jobs. Calls for international assistance from France, Cyprus, Turkey, Italy and Spain (who suffered their own losses) not placed until Sunday morning. Precious time and trees lost for nothing.
In a word, chaos. Greece need not worry about external forces invading from the north; the Turks can simply sit back and wait for Greece to destroy itself.
I wept silently in anger for the salvation of innocents, the animals and forests we desperately need to keep Athens breathable and livable; to help us remember a kinder, gentler time before the natural beauty of this ancient city descended to cement jungles with razed mountains dotted with illegally built homes and makeshift dumps; to give us hope for a better tomorrow, that we might still have a legacy to leave our children.
But there’s a fine line between hope and denial.
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