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Fire Season Here, But Greece Backtracks Home Fire Prevention Measures

ATHENS – Measures announced by the New Democracy government with great flourish, requiring homeowners in or near forests to implement fire prevention measures, have been pulled back ahead of June 6-9 European Parliament elections.

The regulations were aimed at mitigating the spread of fires that are common in Greece in the summer, and in 2023 proved deadly again, many homes unlawfully built in or around forests without penalties that were also withdrawn.

Instead, a ministerial decree said that the homeowners only have to prune trees close to their homes and don’t leave firewood in open spaces despite the dangers otherwise of uncleared brush spreading fires.

“We wanted to arrive at a compromise that will limit the chances of a home burning to the ground without placing too great a burden on households,” said Environment and Energy Minister Theodoros Skylakakis.

The measures were strict, including requirements that homeowners would have to pay an engineer to write a report on measures taken if their house was within 300 meters of parks or groves, or for every tree that would have to be chopped down.

The Ombudsman’s office said the conditions were so stringent that they could be challenged for interfering with property rights although the state has the right to impose measures for public safety, including fire risks.

The ministry, in backtracking, said that its new decree means the new fire protection regulations are “indicative” and that “divergences are possible after case-by-case documentation,” without explaining what that meant.

“We are asking for the obvious. Don’t allow branches to reach windows, tree trunks to lean on roofs or firewood to lie next to gas tanks,” Skylakakis said, but there won’t be any enforcement nor penalties if they do and fires erupt.

The July 23, 2018 wildfires that killed 104 people and nearly wiped out the seaside village of Mati 25 miles northeast of Athens were started by a elderly man burning brush but he and five former fire officials were fined instead of being jailed.

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