Greek forests turn to Google for post-fires protection

Greek forests turn to Google for post-fires protection

19 May 2009

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Greece — The head of a Greek forest destroyed by a wave of wildfires in 2007 that killed 77 people said Tuesday that rangers are using old Internet satellite photography to protect land from illegal housebuilding.

“We are using Google Earth’s photographs from before the fires as a reference point to prevent all illegal exploitation or theft” of some 25,000 hectares of woodlands in the country’s south-west, said Dionysos Thomopoulos.

The forestry decision will bring some relief to the US company, which on Monday saw its popular urban feature — Street View — banned from taking any more images on the nation’s streets over fears of privacy invasions.

“It’s much more practical than traditional aerial photographs, because we have the exact geographical co-ordinates which we can compare with our measurements on the ground,” Thomopoulos added.

Even in the absence of a natural disaster such as the heatwaves that devastated around 270,000 hectares (667,000 acres) of forest and farmland, Greece is prone to seeing land grabbed for rogue property speculation.

However, Thomopoulos said that “people are beginning to show understanding,” saying there are “far fewer attempts” at using fire-ravaged forest land for illegal private use.

Costas Kalabokidis, a natural disaster researcher, said after the 2007 fires that many Greeks would be willing to turn a blind eye to a burning forest if they could build a summer home on the embers.

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