In the news here recently has been the spate of fires that have sprung up in various parts of Greece, exacerbated this year by an incredibly hot and dry summer. Temperatures have been in the high 30s – low 40s for two months. It’s been quite remorseless.
In Greece, wildfires are an annual occurrence. Huge tracts of land get burned out every year. Mostly scrubland and forest, but also agricultural land gets hit, and homes are lost.
And the crazy thing is that many of these fires are deliberately lit. Sometimes by a nut-job arsonist, but more often because of a land dispute of some sort. It used to be that developers would set fire to areas where they wanted to build to get over planning law, but I believe that loophole has been closed now.
While some fires are believed to have been caused by environmental factors, others clearly were not. The fires could have been deliberately started 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
Naturally most will be from accidental sources, but a surprisingly large number are arson. And it’s really quite frightening when there’s a large fire burning nearby, because if the wind whips up and is blowing your way, there’s a good chance that you’ll lose your home.
I’ve had a couple of occasions in different parts of Greece when I’ve had to be ready to jump in the car and run, the fires were that close. Fortunately, fate has been kind to me, and the prevailing wind has taken the fire away, but it’s always a threat in the summer. This weekend I was reading that something like 67 separate fires broke out over a three day period. Most were rapidly contained, but a few of them became a problem.
To deal with this annual issue, the Greek Air Force has a small fleet of firefighting aircraft, mostly Canadair seaplanes, which scoop up water from a nearby bit of sea or lake, and then dump it on the fire.
The video above was taken in Greece, and the one below was when the Greek firefighters were called upon to help out with a large fire in Israel.
The videos illustrate how difficult and dangerous flying these planes is, and the risks involved.
Having been very close to a few of these fires, I’ve watched these guys in action on a number of occasions, and it’s truly riveting stuff, particularly when they fly low over (or on) the water picking up another load to dump on the fire. And when there are two or three of them working together, to watch them following each other closely as they scoop up another bellyful of water is quite enthralling. If you’re a bit of an aeroplane enthusiast like me, that is!
[(I think my enthusiasm springs from the fact that even though I know the theory of how planes fly, in reality I still look on in total awe as hundreds of tons of airliner launches itself improbably into the great blue beyond.) As an aside, it’s one thing I find disappointing about modern airports; the fact that generally you can’t see the runway from anywhere inside the terminal. The old Athens airport (Ellinikon), which was virtually in the centre of the city, had a great café / bar with huge panoramic windows overlooking the runway, and you could sit and watch the planes coming and going. I never tired of it, simple fellow that I am!]
But the aftermath of these wildfires is total devastation – a real post-apocalypse scenario:
In 2007, one of the worst years for fires recorded in Greece, it was estimated that 5% of the country was razed.
More than 670,000 acres (270,000 hectares) of farmland, homes, and protected forests were charred over the summer, the European Forest Fire Information System reports.
That’s twice the amount of land that was scorched in the previous record year, 2000.
“The amount of land burned is about 5 percent of the whole country,” said Constantinos Liarikos, conservation manager with the WWF in Athens. “It was huge.”
And it takes decades to recover in some areas. This has a massive impact on people’s lives. In many cases, they lose everything. Their homes, their livelihoods and their way of life, gone within a matter of hours.
It’s another facet of life in Greece. It’s not all sun, sea and souvlaki, unfortunately.