'Ecological disaster' feared as Greece battles forest fire

In what has been termed as a "huge ecological disaster" by experts, in the nature conservation area near Athens, Hundreds of firefighters have been battling Greece's first major forest fire of the summer.

Biggest fire in 30 years

According to the fire chief Stefanos Kolokouris, the fire, which broke out late Wednesday in the Geraneia mountains some 90 kilometres (55 miles) west of Athens, is "one of the biggest in the past 20 to 30 years, and has come early in the season,".


Fire Fighters battle the flames

More than 270 firefighters, backed by 16 aircraft and by the army, have been fighting the blazes. No injuries have yet been reported, but a number of houses have been damaged or destroyed and a dozen villages and hamlets evacuated.


Aircraft assistance

Fifteen aircraft also assisted the operations. With gale force winds expected to abate soon. On ground, Army clearing machinery and volunteers are supporting the efforts.


Ecological disaster on an immense scale

On Sunday, (May 23) government ministers along with local officials are due in the Gulf of Corinth area to assess the extent of the damage and discuss financial aid. But the scale of the damage, notably for farmers, will only be clear once the fire is completely under control, the civil protection agency said.

Experts and associations quoted in Greek media have warned of an "ecological disaster on an immense scale".


Loss of nature conservation sites

According to a local publication, some 54 per cent of the dense and hitherto protected pine forests in the Geraneia mountains have been burnt, of which 6.1 per cent of the mountain range is part of the European Union's Natura 2000 network of nature conservation sites.

According to Euthymios Lekkas, a professor of environmental disaster management at the University of Athens, 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,"


Loss of animal life

Rescue associations in the area are seeking to help injured animals, burned or dehydrated from the fires, bringing food, water and first aid. One organisation, Caesar's Paradise, said birds, tortoises, hedgehogs and wild boar as well as cats and dogs had been found dead from the smoke and flames.

The Greek NGO ANIMA said it was particularly concerned because the fires erupted "in the spring, when animals give birth to their young". when "It's difficult for newborns to run or to fly with their own wings like adults," the organisation said on social media. 

The WWF launched a petition calling on the government to take "serious prevention measures against forest fires".


A case of negligence

According to the civil protection agency, the blaze due to which multiple hamlets had to be evacuated, started near the village of Schinos next to the resort of Loutraki, apparently by someone burning vegetation in an olive grove.

The national observatory in Athens said the smoke had reached the Cycladic islands as far as Ikaria.


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