An update on the evolution of the forest fire Season in Greece
31 August 2000
The first twenty days of August in Greece became a daily struggle for the Fire Service trying to control numerous fires fanned by very strong winds. The seasonal Meltemi winds in the eastern part of Greece and the Aegean sea that usually blow for 3-4 days and then subside, this year continued without pause practically for the whole month, reaching 8 Beaufort scale force on many days.
Massive initial attack with waterbombers, helicopters and ground forces helped stopped most of the fires in relatively small size, with the exception of a significant fire on the small island of Spetses where a significant part of the pine forest burned. However, as the winds gave no break to the firefighting forces it was a matter of time before problems would appear. As the ground forces after 18 August became exhausted and the aerial means started having increasing maintenance needs, the firefighting capability began dropping slightly. One fire started by lightning on the true-fir (Abies cephalonica) covered mountain Mainalo in the center of Peloponnese was not attacked effectively by the initial attack forces. When winds picked up it re-started and combined with three other arson fires in the same area it created inferno conditions in the center of Peloponnese (the area of Arcadia).
The Arcadia fire complex was ongoing and growing on 24 August when high fire danger conditions were predicted for the northwest part of Greece (the islands in the Ionian sea and the area around Ioannina), absorbing the efforts of 700 firefighters and most of the aerial means. On the evening of 24 August a north wind with 7 Beaufort force started blowing in the area of Ioannina. A fire there that had come from Albania and was still burning at some points along the border, was picked up by the wind. According to witnesses it run 20 km in a valley within four hours. Many small villages in the shrubby oak forests there, occupied mainly by few old people, were soon surrounded by the fire. Most people fled, but some of them did not make it or stayed to protect their homes and burned. By the next morning, seven old people were dead and tens of homes destroyed. The Arcadia fires also grew to very large size burning homes and defying desperate firefighting efforts that included firebreak building with dozers.
In the last 3-4 days the situation became calmer and the firefighting forces were able to control the fires. However, a series of arson fires in Corfu destroyed a number of homes and businesses although the largest did not grow to more than 300 ha.
Currently, as we (hopefully) approach the end of the fire season, the situation has calmed down. The unofficial damage figure at this time is 200,000 ha burned making this the worst year for Greece by far.
By Dr. Gavriil Xanthopoulos
Forester Forest Fire Specialist