Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Fires leave behind ecological disaster and destroy livelihoods

Raging fires create an ecological disaster and devastate people's homes and livelihoods around Athens.

PENDELI, GREECE (AUGUST 25, 2009) REUTERS - For as far as the eye could see only charred black landscapes could be seen around Athens on Tuesday (August 25) after raging wildfires burning for three days had abated.
Often referred to as the "lungs of Athens" the lush forests on the hills around the city - like the Pendeli Mountain - provided clean air for the congested capital, but now only several kilometres of smouldering ash circled the wider Athens area in what was being called an ecological disaster.

The forests were also full of wildlife, such as turtles, wild birds, and hares. Partridges could be seen scavenging for a piece of green in the charred remains.

About 37,000 acres (15,200 hectares) of forest, farm fields and olive groves were flattened. It was estimated that some 150 permanent and summer houses were damaged. Homeowners began to survey the damage and clear out the burned debris.

In Rodopolis, in the Attica prefecture, large villas could be seen gutted out by the fire.

The Athens mayor offered to set up tents for anyone who was left homeless by the fire but so far there had been very few takers, as residents tend to find shelter with relatives or have second homes.

An assessment of the damage by local government authorities will now take place and should outline what type of damage houses and farms have suffered in order to allocate compensation and restore power lines and flood breakers. The loss of so many trees now raises the risk of unhindered floods when rains comes in the autumn.

The fire brigade announced officially on Tuesday the fires in the Attica prefecture and Athens suburbs had now been contained but the press and opposition parties have attacked the government's handling of the fire, citing a lack of coordination.

The battle against the fire, the biggest since Greece's worst wildfires in living memory killed 65 people in 2007, will

be crucial to Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who has been mulling a reshuffle before an early election this autumn.

Karamanlis's government is clinging to a one-seat majority and the socialist opposition, ahead in opinion polls, has made clear it will force a snap poll and use a March parliamentary vote, when a new president will be chosen, to achieve that.