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Will Greece Be Ready if Wildfires Strike Again This Summer?

ATHENS – The wildfires in Greece in the summer of 2021 were the worst in Europe in severity – some caused by arson – and the New Democracy government that was criticized for its handling of the disaster has moved to be prepared if they strike again.

In a feature, the site Aerial Fire indicated how the aerial firefighter capacity especially is being ramped up after residents on the island of Evia, which was almost half-consumed by flames, said there were delays in sending more.

The blazes caused extensive ecological damage and the 2021 firefighting season saw a 632 percent increase in areas affected by wildfire compared to the 2008-2020 seasons, including a 130 percent increase in wildfire activation throughout the country, the site said.

That resulted in the burning of 1,550,000 acres, according to published data from the Greek Forestry Service and it coincided with a brutal heat wave that saw the catastrophe largely blamed on the effects of climate change.

Fires have been a common phenomenon in Greece in the summer, with the biggest loss of life in the July 23, 2018 conflagration that killed 102 people and nearly wiped out the seaside village of Mati, 16.1 miles northeast of Athens.

Some 78 suspects were arrested in connection with the fires, some of which in the past had been set to allow developments in burned land before the New Democracy government moved to bar that.

The site said 56 of the fires were caused by negligence and 22 to arson and that data from Greek authorities said 64 percent were human error, 26 percent unknown and only 10 percent to natural causes.

Weather forecasters had warned of a greater fire risk brought on by climate change but the major rival SYRIZA – which had been accused of a chaotic response to the 2018 fires while in power – said the government wasn’t ready.

Aerial firefighting operations in Greece are usually conducted by various squadrons of the Hellenic Fire Corps, the Hellenic Army Air Corps, and Hellenic Air Force, along with by civil contractors including Erickson Air Crane, which provided a fleet of S-64Es along with engineers and pilots stationed throughout Greece.

Greece’s former Civil Protection chief said the government would look at acquiring 8 Viking Air CL-515s, which are capable of operating at night after Greece had to ask for help from neighboring countries.

“To effectively manage and tackle the problem of forest fires, the specific characteristics of each region, such as fuel types, landscape, weather, and even the social or economic aspects have to be taken into consideration,” said Miltiadis Athanasiou, an expert in forest fires told the site.

“In ideal conditions, after assessing the threat to the natural and anthropogenic environment, we have to act with preventive public policies. Agroforestry fuel management that matches the green and circular economy and public awareness objectives will help prevent mega-fires.

“Those efforts reduce fire hazards in strategic locations, mitigate the fire risk, and facilitate fire suppression. There are no ‘cure-all solutions’ to the fire problem. We have to help the public learn and act to build community wildfire resilience,” he continued.

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