Forest fires in Greece: 5 August 1999

Forest Fires in Greece

5 August 1999

GFMC Correspondent Gavriil Xanthopoulos reports from Greece:

This summer has been a very quiet one in regard to forest fires in Greece. It has been more humid than usual, and we have even had some rain. As a result, the Fire Service which has worked hard through the winter to get ready for a difficult summer, has been able to suppress nearly all fires a few hours after eruption, through massive initial attack. The “burned-area” statistics are so low that they may set a 20-year record if the trend continues in the same way.

Unfortunately on 28 July 1999 a 27 year old girl, assistant-forester who worked as seasonal firefighter in a handcrew on the island of Chios, lost her life while fighting a fire there. The fire started about 17:00 in the evening of that day. It burned in light fuels under medium force but erratic winds (4-5 BF). The local forces of 8 fire-trucks and 40 firefighters were soon helped by CANADAIR CL-415 and CL-215 waterbombers and the fire was considered under control one hour after sunset (22:00). Then a flare-up occurred at one location of the fire perimeter. An eleven person handcrew was send to control it. According to first accounts, as they approached, the wind picked-up, and the fire that was burning in light fuels responded immediately. Three firefighters were caught in the run while the others managed to escape. The girl died on the spot, while a 31 year-old seasonal employee and a permanent Fire Service officer suffered heavy burns. They were transported to a special hospital burn-unit in Athens where they are in intensive care, fighting for their lives.

This tragic event will certainly be investigated. However, as most of you with significant experience in firefighting can tell, some of the common denominators of such tragedies are there: 1. Light fuels 2. Dark 3. Rough terrain that makes movement difficult 4. Erratic wind and changes in fire behavior

All three of them were experienced in fighting forest fires. The girl, after acquiring her assistant-forester’s degree, was trained for the first time in firefighting in 1995 and worked on the subject in the following years. The 31-year old seasonal firefighter had trained with the first helicrews in Greece in 1993 and had worked seasonally in firefighting since then. The Fire Service officer, who was in charge of the crew, had 18 years of experience in firefighting. Some of the first (unconfirmed) reports say that the Fire Service officer suffered his burns (and probably saved his life) by running through the fire front.

In a later report the GFMC correspondent reported:

I am sorry to announce that one of the two firefighters that had been injured on a fire on the Greek island Chios on 28 July, when a third firefighter had died, finally lost the fight for his life. The 31 year old seasonal firefighter who had worked since 1993 on helicrews, died when his kidneys failed. He had suffered deep burns over 60% of his body and according to press reports he also had some internal lug burns. He had been in intensive care at the hospital through this time. The remaining injured firefighter is still in intensive care. He has suffered less severe damage and the doctors appear more optimistic.

Gavriil Xanthopoulos
Natural Resource Technologies Consulting
31 Mouson str.
Athens, 17562

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