Athenians lament Attica forest destruction

25 August 2009

published by By REUTERS

Dark smoke covered the Athens sky over the weekend, its thick plumes rising over the Acropolis and rekindling memories of the huge, deadly fires of 2007 that nearly cost Greece’s ruling conservatives their re-election.

For Athenians glued to TV pictures of frantic residents trying to battle flames reaching their backyards with buckets and garden houses, it was much more than a dramatic struggle to rescue property.

What they were watching was some of the last remaining patches of green around the metropolis of nearly 5 million people going up in smoke, the capital’s “lungs” giving up.

From a small town at the foot of the Acropolis in the early 1800s, Athens has grown into a huge bustling capital with heavy traffic and pollution. It relies heavily on its surrounding green hills to provide oxygen and cool it down in the difficult summer months.

Long the victim of greedy developers, the forests of Attica have been receding as buildings replace what was once pine and fir trees. Amid suspicions that arson was behind the weekend fires, a public prosecutor has ordered an inquiry.

“Despite the huge destruction wiping out Attica’s forests in recent decades, no measures are taken,” said the liberal Eleftherotypia daily. “How much more destruction must Attica suffer to shake a corrupt system?”

Greek blogs like and also decried the illegal construction that has sprouted in the forests around Athens after every big fire. They say many of the homes razed during the weekend blazes should have been have torn down by the state.

“Nobody said that many of the houses destroyed were illegal,” said press-gr.

Environmental groups blame the lack of enforcement of strict zoning legislation for the chaotic development that has expanded the capital in recent decades. If a developer sets fire to a forest and the state turns a blind eye to the buildings that appear there afterwards, they ask, what is to prevent a repeat of this weekend’s destruction?

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