The fire season of 1996 was the second consecutive year for Greece with better-than-average results with regard to forest fire protection. At the end of October, with the fire season practically over due to heavy rains, a total of 1757 forest fires had been reported. These fires burned a total of 22,901 hectares resulting in an average burned area of 13.03 hectares per fire, the lowest since 1962. These results are very positive when compared with the forest fire statistics for the last 15 years (Fig.1 and 2), and they are the result of significant improvements in the effectiveness of the country’s firefighting mechanism. However, the total number of forest fires (Fig.3) is one of the highest on record indicating that there is a strong need for additional efforts in the field of forest fire prevention.
In 1996 there were no huge fires like the disastrous fire on Penteli mountain near Athens in 1995. However, the beginning of the summer season was marked by the occurrence of an extraordinarily large number of fires around Athens, eighteen of them at the extensive urban-wildland interface zone at the base of Penteli mountain. Effective initial attack controlled all these fires at very small sizes. However, the large number of fires led to the decision to invite two fire investigation specialists from the United States, who had recently retired from the U.S. Forest Service and voluntarily offered their services. These two specialists had participated in the three-member team of U.S. Forest Service specialists who had offered a one-week forest fire investigation course to 25 Greek foresters in 1995. They arrived in Greece at the beginning of August just before the peak of the fire season. Their arrival was heavily publicized and they immediately started examining the series of fires around Penteli, determining that arson was the probable cause of most of them. Interestingly, no additional fires erupted for the rest of the fire season. Later, and until the middle of September, the investigations continued in other parts of the country where an unusually high number of fires had been recorded. A voluminous report with findings, observations and suggestions was prepared by the investigators before leaving the country.
A second action that aimed at putting a brake to the unusually high number of fires was the preparation of a large fire prevention campaign that aimed at educating and sensitizing the public. This campaign consisted of television and radio spots, full-page ads in newspapers and preparation of informative leaflets that were distributed from toll-booths on national roads on days (usually weekends) of high fire danger.
Third, an educational two-volume video tape was produced based on the lectures of the 1995 fire investigation course that was mentioned above. The lectures had been videotaped at that time and after appropriate processing and subtitling two video tapes were prepared as educational material that was distributed to the Local Forest Service offices throughout the country to help improve the skills of their personnel on this particular task.
In addition to fine-tuning the whole organization, two new elements that were added to the forest firefighting system helped improve its efficiency, although the ground and aerial firefighting means remained at the same level as in the previous two years. These elements were:
For the first time a fire danger prediction map was issued on a daily basis throughout the fire season and was immediately communicated to the appropriate offices for planning and alertness purposes. Two versions of the map were produced: a detailed, technical map for the firefighting organization, and a simpler general map that was publicized through the mass media to alert the public. Each day’s map was valid for the next 24 hour period.
New specialized orthophoto maps were produced for Attica, which is the most sensitive area in regard to forest fires. These maps, covered Attica at two different scales (1:40.000 and 1:10.000) and in addition to showing contours and vegetation cover they included large amounts of information that is extremely useful to forest firefighting such as location of water hydrants, gas stations, bus routes, usual location of fire trucks etc. Their use was supported by a specially prepared computer program that allows easy location on the map of any new detected fire that is reported by an area’s local name.
Finally, in September 1996 there was one forest fire related death, that of an old shepherd at the area of Loutraki near Corinth. He tried to save his flock from the approaching fire front. His wife was also seriously injured in the accident.
Fig.1. Total burned area per year in Greece in the period1980-1996. (will be added later)
Fig.2. Mean burned area per fire in Greece in the period1980-1996. (will be added later)
Fig.3. Number of forest fires in Greece in the period 1980-1996. (will be added later)
From: Dr. Gavriil Xanthopoulos Forester – Forest Fire Specialist Address: Ministry of Agriculture General Secretariat for Forests and Natural Environment 3-5 Ippokratous str. GR – Athens, 10164