ATHENS: Hundreds of firefighters battled Greece’s first major forest fire of the summer on Saturday, as experts warned of a “huge ecological disaster” in the nature conservation area near Athens.
The fire, which broke out late on Wednesday in the Geraneia mountains some 90 kilometres (55 miles) west of the capital, is “one of the biggest in the past 20 to 30 years, and has come early in the season,” fire chief Stefanos Kolokouris told ANT1 television.
He said better weather conditions allowed firefighters to bring the main front of the outbreak under control late on Friday, but there remain “several active and scattered” blazes.
More than 270 firefighters, backed by 16 aircraft and by the army, were fighting the blazes, the fire service said. No injuries have been reported, but a number of houses have been damaged or destroyed and a dozen villages and hamlets evacuated.
The scale of the damage, notably for farmers, will only be clear once the fire is completely under control, the civil protection agency said.
But experts and associations quoted in Greek media have warned of an “ecological disaster on an immense scale”.
Some 54 percent of the dense and hitherto protected pine forests have been burnt, the leftist Avghi daily said. And 6.1 percent of the mountain range is part of the European Union’s Natura 2000 network of nature conservation sites.
Euthymios Lekkas, professor of environmental disaster management at the University of Athens, said the fires have burnt more than 55 square kilometres (21 square miles) of pine forest and other land, some of it agricultural.
“It’s a huge ecological disaster that needs work to avoid landslides and terrible flooding in the autumn,” he told ERT public television.
Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2021