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After Big Winter Jump in Forest Fires, Greece Readies for More

ATHENS – The diastrous summer of 2021, that saw near-record heat waves, climate change and wildfires sweeping Greece is already showing ominous signs of bring rekindled after a big jump in forest fires in the first three monts of 2022.

The National Observatory of Athens meteo service reported the danger, said the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency AMNA, using analysis from the  European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

That showed that up to April 9 there was a 750 percent jump for the period over that from 2008-21 and that the amount of land burned jumped an astounding 275 percent, sounding the alert.

The number of forest fires and the total amount of burnt land are currently at the highest level ever recorded in Greece during the first quarter of the year after 2008, it was reported.

EFFIS said over the period there were 30 forest fires instead of the usual 4.4 that are seen on average during this time of year, which burned 1033 hectares (2553 acres) instead of the usual 37.5 hectares (93 acres.)

The New Democracy government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, which in 2021 admitted there were shortcomings in dealing with hundreds of fires spontaneously across the country, is stepping up preparations, said Kathimerini.

The worst of those was on Greece’s second-biggest island of Evia, about 70 miles northeast of Athens, and saw almost half the forests and land there consumed by conflagrations and the rescue of hundreds by sea.

There was huge damage to agriculture and people’s livelihoods on the island, the state jumping in with aid to help offset the losses, the destruction of trees also losing protection against flooding which came later.

Mitsotakis’ government also has to worry about the political fallout if it happens again, the paper noted, as elections are due in 2023 although the ajor rival and former ruling SYRIZA wants snap polls before then.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still lingering, and dozens of deaths daily, the government nontheless has eased most health measures in a bid to lure tourists and accelerate an economic recovery to help people’s pocketbooks.

The government, the report added, is already girding for the possibility of fires, increasing penalties for those who set them by accident, and had been the first to disallow building on burned lands as a deterrent against arson-for-development.

Property owners who set fires to clear their land of brush, often setting bigger fires – as happened on July 23, 2018 when it led to wildfires killing 102 people and nearly wiping out the seaside village of Mati near Athens, will now face the consequences, it was alleged.

New legislation will also let municipalities step in and clear land that’s been overtaken by combustible growth without the owner’s consent in a further bid to prevent fires from starting.

The plan will require nearly 100 million euros ($108.17 million) to implement, the paper said, 25 million euros ($27.04 million) focused on green spaces and forest near urban areas, such as Mati.

Another 50-million euro ($54.08 million) program will concentrate on countryside forests and scrubland, although despite promises for a centralized response to fires the responsibility for the programs will be split between agencies.

Cities and towns will get 18.4 million euros ($19.4 million) from the Interior Ministry to buy firefighting equipment and implement own programs to prevent blazes and the government said it would acquire more firefighting airplanes.

 

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