In Greece, 50,000 hectares gone up in smoke, the ecosystem “in danger”

Since mid-July, Greece has been plagued by monster fires. In total, no less than 50,000 hectares have gone up in smoke since the start of this episode of megafires, “the worst” month of July in more than ten years. Faced with this climate catastrophe, experts are sounding the alarm: the Greek ecosystem is “in danger”.

“The winter was dry and the spring rains were not sufficient to maintain humidity” in the roots, notes Charalambos Kontoes, agricultural engineer at the Athens Observatory. Greece has been hit by a long period of heat, strong winds and drought, “extreme climatic conditions (which) fan the fires”, notes Nikos Bokaris, the president of the Greek Union of Foresters.

Situation “under control” but new lights

The provisional assessment of the fires, especially in Attica, the Athens region, and on the tourist islands of Rhodes, Corfu or Euboea, amounts to “about 50,000 hectares burned”, deplores Charalampos Kontoes, stressing that at In this regard, it is the “worst July” in thirteen years.

About 660 fire starts, the vast majority quickly extinguished, were recorded in ten days, according to the Minister of Civil Protection Vassilis Kikilias. The fires are generally “under control” on Saturday, with however new fires in the Peloponnese, and the firefighters remained deployed on all terrains.

Three new fires broke out on Greece’s southern peninsula on Saturday, prompting calls from authorities to evacuate four communities, near the town of Pyrgos in the western Peloponnese, according to the Greek emergency services. More than a hundred firefighters were fighting against these fires supported by seven planes and two helicopters, said the fire department reached by telephone.

Two weeks of fighting

After two weeks of fighting against the hundreds of fires that have broken out in the country, more than 460 firefighters are also mobilized on the most important outbreaks of the last few days: in the islands of Rhodes and Corfu, very popular summer destinations for tourists from all over the world, as well as in central Greece, near Volos, the prefecture of Magnesia.

“There is no longer an active front”, in Rhodes, Corfu, and Magnesia, the areas “which concern us the most”, the fire department had previously specified on Saturday. “There are scattered pockets of fire that are being extinguished”, but “there will be no reduction in forces (on the ground) until the major disasters have been extinguished”, according to the same source.

Recurring fires

Greece suffers forest fires every year, often deadly as in 2007 in the Peloponnese and Euboea (84 dead) or in 2018 in Mati, a seaside resort near Athens (103 dead).

Two years ago, fires, particularly in Euboea, killed three people during the summer and burned 130,000 hectares, including olive groves and pine forests producing resin. Hundreds of hives had gone up in smoke. This year they have so far resulted in five deaths.

“African landscapes”

The environmental repercussions will be assessed after their extinction, according to the Greek branch of the WWF. But in Rhodes alone, according to provisional estimates by the Greek agricultural insurance organization ELGA, 50,000 olive trees were lost, in addition to other crops, as well as 2,500 animals and beehives.

And “the repetitive fires endanger the ecosystem, the forests are transformed into agroforestry land, the brushwood into scrubland (…) the landscape tends to change and resemble African landscapes”, fears Nikos Bokaris.

In Rhodes, where the fires broke out on July 18, “much of the fauna”, such as an endemic species of dama dama (European fallow deer), “has been seriously affected; some deer were found charred,” laments Grigoris Dimitriadis, president of the local environmental protection association.

The fires are also at the origin of the diffusion of polluting particles, at “record” levels in this month of July: “one megaton of carbon emissions between July 1 and 25, almost double the July record 2007,” noted the European observatory Copernicus.

A change in government strategy?

For Nikos Bokaris, the situation in the Attica basin is problematic because “there are few green spaces and the concrete constructions create a closed thermal environment”.

The Greek government, which blames the fires primarily on the climate crisis, is often accused of not doing enough to protect biodiversity and take action to prevent the fires.

“This year, prevention started a little late, but firebreaks or other preventive measures are not always the panacea when the fire takes on enormous dimensions”, remarks Nikos Bokaris according to whom Greece has received 55 million euros of European funds in 2022 and 86 million in 2023 to better prepare. He recommends letting the burnt land regenerate and prohibiting the conversion of “burnt forests into areas for cultivation or construction”, as often happens.

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