During the 1990 fire season (1 January – 30 September), 1,091 wildland fires occurred in Greece burning a total of 33,882 ha thereof 18,486 ha were productive forest (mainly coastal forests of Pinus halepensis and Pinus brutia), 11,062 ha brushlands (maquis-type vegetation) and 4,333 ha grazing lands (pastures). Two fatalities occurred in a fire in Western Peloponese. Two firefighters were suffocated by smoke due to a sudden drift of the smoke column in the fire front caused by a wind shift. In 1990, the average fire size was 31 ha which compares well with the 34 ha during 1989 and the 63 ha during the 1988 fire seasons. However, the 1987 and 1986 fire seasons which had average fire sizes of 177 and 196 ha, respectively were worse. Although the number of fires increased in 1990 as compared to 1989 (1,091 versus 976 fires per year), the total burned area was slightly reduced (33,882 versus 34,031 ha). This could be interpreted as an indication of improved efficiency of the Greek forest firefighting forces considering the fact that firefighting equipment was the same both years. On the contrary, 1988 was a disastrous year for the Greek forests. It was the driest year ever recorded in Greece during which 1,410 fires occurred with an average fire size of 63 ha, more than double that of 1990.
The worst fire during the 1990 fire season occurred in the Mount Athos peninsula (“Holy Mountain”) which is the location and property of many Eastern Orthodox monasteries. It lasted for two weeks and burned 1,500 ha of productive chestnut forest, unique in Greece and brushlands. Strong winds and almost complete lack of a forest road network severely hampered firefighting efforts. The ecological damage was considered “biblical” since the vegetation and natural ecosystem processes were largely undisturbed from human influence since A.D. 960. Due to exclusion of human activities from the whole peninsula (Mount Athos is considered Holy by the Eastern Orthodox church and administratively is autonomous from the Greek Government). Two specially equipped helicopters sent from the Federal Republic of Germany, kindly assisted the firefighting efforts.
From: A.P. Dimitrakopoulos and Evangelos Sakelaridis Address: Dept. of Environmental Sciences University of the Aegean Mytilini, Greece Direction of Forest Protection Ministry of Agriculture 3-5 Ippokratous Str. GR – 106 79 Athens