GFMC: Second Call for Help to Assist in Managing the Forest Fires on Samos Island, Greece

Second Call for Help to Assist in Managing the Forest Fires on Samos Island, Greece

The following second call for assistance and update situation report was received by the GFMC from Gerling Sustainable Development (GSDP) GmbH, on 12 July 2000 at 07:15 GMT

On Samos Island the second and worst forest fire in the year 2000 broke out on Thursday, 6 July 2000 at 7:30 p.m. Until now the fires are multiple and cover up to now an area of far over 6000 hectares. The strong winds of 6 – 8 beaufort and changing directions make the fire fighting more difficult facing up to 70 meters high flames and a huge thermal radiation which leads to a high velocity of the fire transportation over the island.

On 10 July state brigades with 520 firemen and 60 fire engines supported by 5 air fire fighting vehicles (three M26 helicopters and two C-130 airplanes) are fighting against the fires to save lives and possessions of the inhabitants of Samos Island as well as to stop the fire destroying the almost virgin biosphere of thousands of species of plants and animals.

Two monasteries dated before the year 1500 BC and parts of five villages are victims of the fires. Although it is remarkable that there are no human victims in spite of one 92 years old lady which decided to return into her burning house to take something out.

The burning down of the electric grid let for a few days to the power interruption for whole west Samos and the Fourni Island Group which is connected to Samos Island via Sea cable. The Tourists are massively leaving the Island and others who planned their vacancies on Samos are cancelling their bookings, which is made easy for them by the tour operators which responded immediately making alternative offers to their clients but up to now making no offers to help the burning down Island, which was capable of receiving more than 300.000 Tourists from charter packages a season. The damage to the local economy is huge. The ecology is almost devastated.

The news of 11 July 2000 talk about an estimation that together with the fires of March this year about 3/4 of the Forest on Samos is burned down. Local authorities fear that the inhabitants especially the young people will start to leave Samos after this catastrophe. The winds at the moment stopped and the fires are almost under control but this is a very weak stabilisation because any weather change and cases of re-ignition may lead to further catastrophes. Especially regarding that the fact that the state brigades will have to leave the Island.

On 12 July the fires are due to increasing winds reignitions take place and the catastrophe continues. The German Embassy signalled their preparedness to initiate help from Bundeswehr and Technisches Hilfswerk immediately. Precondition for such a help is that the Greek Minister for Public Order Mr. Chryssochoidis sends an official request for help to the German Embassy. The Minister did up to now ask officially France and Italy (as we are informed) who face the same problems as Greece and are not able to help. A personal contact via telephone this morning had been used by GSDP to inform the Minister about the situation and the readiness of the German Embassy. We wait now for the official letter to the German Embassy send by the Minister and theoretically in 5 hours time first help from Germany could arrive.

Meanwhile we received a few essential mails with help offers from international private companies. The networking and co-ordination of the private sectors help (technically, organisationwise and economically) with the International Brigades and the Greek States Forces will surely have significant effects for the minimisation of the Damages on Samos. The main thing that counts now is the management of the days after, because after the fire catastrophe the ecologic catastrophe due to soil erosion danger can be ultimately devastating (Samos has enormous slope decline degrees).

It is necessary to act and to organise an emergency help for Samos which will directly have positive influences to the local situation. Gerling SDP having set up a plan for the Sustainable Development of the Prefecture of Samos with a work of two years is especially concerned about the catastrophe and initiates a direct help in form of technical, organisational and financial help to Samos.

Direct activities

We start with an initial budget of 50,000 DM to set up a series of immediate donations with the purpose of sending special forces and material in form of specialised extinguishing products for forest fires to be applied with the consultation of international specialists to extinguish fires more effectively and to keep the fire sources that are extinguished under control after the state fire brigades leave the Island due to the need to fight fire fronts in other areas of Greece.

Finally on a medium term scale immediate activities to minimise the soil erosion following a forest fire of this extent are of crucial necessity .

Necessary medium-term measures

Medium term wise it must also be achieved to set up an organisation of the precaution of such natural catastrophes with quick identification and response systems and technologies. This has to be done with the support and use of technologies like Geo Information Systems – GIS using Earth Observation Data from Satellites. A fully integrated approach to the technical and organisational fire protection incl. the organisation of fire watches, detailed emergency response plans, investment plans for technical equipment and training for

  1. special response forces,

  2. volunteer task forces and

  3. the whole population of Samos for the right response in case of forest fires is needed.

The mass of partially or fully burned wood could be recycled in a way and give jobs to some of the people that were hit by the fires loosing their fields, olive trees, wine yards, bee stocks and so on. The already in May identified priority of installing a biomass treatment installation may no be a necessary and helpful step to rehabilitate the former forest grounds.

  • Volunteers from Greece and around Europe may be involved in the actual replanting of the trees and the other immediate actions needed to rehabilitate the whole area. Apart from actually working with the local people on the rehabilitation the volunteers would get to know the island of Samos and establish long-term relationships with the local people (some of them will definitely come back in the years to come to see the result of their work). They will also provide some financial support in the local economy through their consumption during their presence and this, considering the disaster for the local tourism that will occur in the next weeks will be highly appreciated.
  • The local population has for obvious reasons an interest to rehabilitate the area to its previous status. They may collaborate with the volunteers and also provide them with housing (local families may host these people coming from abroad for a period of one to two weeks as long as their presence in the island lasts).
  • The tour operators (TUI, etc.) should sponsor the action either with cash or through their network of agencies across Europe. In many cases it is to their interest to rehabilitate the island as soon as possible and in all cases it can be an action of good publicity to show to their clients that they really care for the places where they send them.
  • Various international and national environmental organizations (WWF, etc.) should disseminate the objectives of the action and actively participate either as volunteers or as providers of knowledge on current good practice.
  • The fire brigade and forest researchers should define the best way to reestablish the forest (type of vegetation, definition of anti- fire zones, etc.)
  • The Greek authorities should back up the whole action by providing the legal framework and the police measures necessary to assure that the former forest grounds will be kept as forest areas in the future. (Source of the bullets: Stylianos Loupasis)

Call for immediate help

We call for immediate uncomplicated support for the direct activities and for the declaration for the support of the following necessary medium term measures. We thank all interested and competent bodies for their support.

Contact Address:

Mr. Georgios Radoglou
Senior Project Manager – GSDP
Gerling Sustainable Development GmbH
Representative Office Athens Tel: ++30 – 1 – 7259 – 181 (dir.: -282)
Fax: ++30 – 1 – 7259 – 005

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