Greece — Greece’s failure to improve its fire fighting system after deadly blazes last year was to blame for fires that raged for days in July on the island of Rhodes, environmentalists said on Wednesday.
The fires, which burned for seven days, destroyed 11,000 hectares of farmland and pristine pine forests on the Aegean holiday island despite the efforts of hundreds of fire fighters and volunteers.
The blaze forced the evacuation of scores of villagers and visitors during the high season for tourism and devastated woodlands that are home to wild fallow deer.
“Rhodes paid the price this year for the insufficiency of the country’s fire protection system,” the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said in a report.
A spokesman for the Greek fire brigade, however, said weather conditions had made it difficult to contain the blaze despite the best efforts of the authorities.
“It was a very difficult fire,” Giannis Kapakis, Greek fire brigade spokesman, told Reuters. “More than 12 aircraft and hundreds of firemen and volunteers battled to put the fire out.”
WWF said the fire on Rhodes had burned areas that had already been torched during the last 20 years.
“This means burnt young fir and pine forests will need even more years to grow back and fallow deer may risk their lives seeking food closer to people and farms,” said Nikos Georgiadis, a forest expert at the Greek branch of WWF.
The branch warned in May that the country was not ready to deal with another forest fire season after enduring a state of emergency in 2007 during a 10-day inferno that killed 65 people.
The Fund had called for the creation of a specialist unit within the fire brigade, more staff, improved training and more funds for fire prevention.
Georgiadis said the local eco-system would recover if left alone but one third of the forests would need to be replanted.