Monday, 28 July 2008
Where's the fire?
From the 1st of May until the 1st of October on Lesvos, and I guess in the whole of Greece, it's forbidden to start a fire. This means that you're not allowed to burn your garden weeds, you may not try to burn away the bushes on a piece of land to clear it and you may not make a fire in order to smoke away wasps.
This last thing was done by an army officer who had to control some pipes and found a wasps nest. I'm not sure if he managed to get rid of the wasps but certainly he smoked out the surrounding region: he caused a major fire in Dervenochora, in the district of Viotia. He will face severe punishment and probably serve some time in prison.
In Agias Isodoros on the island of Rhodes a 61 year old resident was getting rid of his weeds in the garden and caused with his garden fire a far greater fire: for 6 days the fire raged through the woods of the southern centre of the island. Smoke was so thick that some 2000 tourists had to be evacuated. Firemen from all over Greece were assisted by firemen from Cyprus, Italy and France. Today the fire is finally under control. That man not only burned his garden weed, he got 4 years in prison and a fine of 15,000 euros. About 5,000 hectares of woodland and agricultural ground were lost in the flames.
A fire on the Peloponnessus caused so much smoke that the highway number One of Greece, from Patras to Athens, had to be closed down and trains had to wait in stations.
Since the big wild fires at the end of last summer, where 270,000 hectares of land were burned, many houses were consumed in the flames and 77 people died, the Greeks this summer seem to be on the lookout for fires. Each day you can read in the papers long lists of where there are fires. The worst hit region is that of Athens, but islands like Crete, Corfu and this week Rhodes also got their fair share.
So now the government is under fire. Last year it was often said that the fires were caused by arsonists. However this year researchers pointed out three main causes that have nothing to do with arsonists: the electricity company (DEH) that has such old fashioned poles in the whole of the country, farmers that burn scrub land in order to make fresh pasture for their animals and finally the most complained about cause, and we cannot talk enough about this, the illegal dumps. Well, you could enter a fourth category: the stupid people that don't think, like the men named above.
Last year, farmers who burned scrubland were positive news. A flat land without scrubs is not such a great fire risk and it was said that this farming tradition should continue in order to prevent fires. Problem is that most farmers make these fires after the summer. From the first of October here on the island in the mountains it is a common sight to see little flames turning bushes into a black charred landscape. In those places in spring sheep will find juicy new green grass. So I'm afraid that I can't say for sure if this tradition, when done in the rainy months, prevents or causes wild fires.
Government as well is blamed for not having done enough in the past winter to prevent wild fires. There was no extra money to clean up woods or for more foresters. There are even victims of last years fires who did not see one euro for their lost houses.
The new 'who-to-blame' this year is the electricity company. They have these poles throughout the country that especially in the winter can turn into firework poles. In May such a pole was the cause of a minor fire along the road from Molyvos to Vafios. Some sheep escaped from the flames just in time and the fire was fought by two planes and lots of firemen on the ground.
We also have such a pole at the back of our garden. In the winter it sizzles and spews sparks, especially when it rains. In the winter you don't care, although I once saw such a pole set on fire and the fire brigade had to come and rescue it. However the pole behind our garden was spitting fire even in May. Then the electricity company came as fast as possible to repair it. But at night the pole still joins the cricket chorus with sizzling sounds.
Each night before I go to bed I check the pole is not spitting fire. I already told the meter reader of the phenomenon, as well as the hotel that is close by. But the pole still keeps on sizzling. That doesn't stop me from having a good sleep each night. Maybe I am as fatalistic as the Greeks are, they are no good at preventing whatsoever. My sister said that I should prepare a little emergency suitcase. I had to laugh at that idea. Before I run away I will of course first try to save the house from the flames.
Last week I wrote about water and hesitated to write about fires. Because often enough when I write about a drought, it will sometimes rain and when I write about high temperatures, they will drop the next day. So when I write that until now Lesvos has been so very lucky in not having any big wild fires, I touch wood (a Dutch tradition, say, to turn the evil eye away). And mind you, careless Greeks (and tourists of course) and thoughtless smokers: we must keep Lesvos out of the fires!
Copyright © Smitaki 2008