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Greek fires persist as temperatures rise September 1, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News.
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greece-fires.jpg  A villager runs holding a hose during a forest fire at Ploutohori village in central Peloponnese, about some 250 km (155 miles) southwest of Athens on August 28, 2007.

Firefighters in southern Greece were battling Saturday to contain the remains of an inferno that has killed more than 60 people, with temperatures forecast to rise again after a recent brief respite.

Five large fires were still burning in the Peloponnese peninsula to the south of Athens and the island of Evia east of the capital, but inhabited areas were not in threat, a fire department spokesman said.

“The fires are burning over an enormous area which firemen cannot easily access on foot, it would require a force of tens of thousands of people,” fire department spokesman Nikolaos Diamantis told reporters on Friday evening.

Temperatures were forecast to reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in these areas and in Athens on Saturday while stormy weather was expected in the north.

Lower temperatures and lighter winds had helped firefighters earlier this week to get a grip of the fires that have killed at least 63 people and destroyed around 200,000 hectares (500,000 acres) of forest and agricultural land.

Ten fire-fighting plans and three helicopters were operating in the Peloponnese, where the situation was worst on Mount Parnon, near the town of Sparta.

“The fires on Mount Parnon are at a great altitude and airborne units are needed to counter them,” Diamantis said.

New fires broke out Friday on the island of Zakynthos in the Ionian Sea and in the northern region of Kilkis but were contained, the fire department said.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso flew to Greece early on Saturday morning to assess the vast damage, and flew by helicopter over the Peloponnese with Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.

The Peloponnese inferno started on August 24 in the wake of a heat wave, the third to hit Greece since the beginning of the summer.

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Dip in tourism at Ancient Olympia September 1, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News.
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Following the fire that threatened to destroy the site of Ancient Olympia, tourism in the area has also taken a hit, as a number of operators said that they have canceled trips over the next two weeks.

The cancellations have come mostly as a result of tour operators not wanting to show visitors around the site, which was badly damaged by the fire on Sunday.

Firefighters were able to stop the blaze just meters from the museum but artifacts were damaged in a storage area that belongs to the German Archaeological Institute. The fire also burned trees on the sacred Kronio Hill.

However, help could soon be on the way as the mayor of Munich, Christian Ude, yesterday sent a letter to President KarolosPapoulias to inform him that the German city wants to contribute toward the restoration of Ancient Olympia.

Munich, which hosted the modern Olympics in 1972, has offered 100,000 euros to help reforest Kronio Hill. It has also offered to train Greek firemen at its firefighting academy.

Greece wins first medal in Japan September 1, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Athletics.
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Piyi Devetzi picked up Greece’s first medal at the athletics World Championships in Osaka, Japan, yesterday.

The 31-year-old Olympic silver medalist had to settle for third place and the bronze medal in the women’s triple jump. Devetzi’s best jump of 15.04 meters came with her first attempt. Cuba’s Yargelis Savigne won the event with a jump of 15.28 meters.

Help Greece > please help the fire victims September 1, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News.
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Fires have destroyed thousands of Greek homes this summer >

greece_fires.jpg

FIRE VICTIMS RELIEF FUND

HELP GREECE > DONATIONS: THE BANK OF GREECE >

SWIFT: BNGRGRAA > IBAN: GR9801000230000002341103053

> Thank You!

Centerville church to help fire victims in Greece September 1, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News, Greek Diaspora.
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St. George Greek Orthodox Church will hold a special service for the victims of the devastating wildfires in southwestern Greece at 10:15 a.m. tomorrow at the church on Route 28 in Centerville.

The fires, which started last week and are still smoldering, have killed 64 people and burned 454,000 acres of land. A special collection for money to be sent to the affected areas will be included in the service.

The local church will begin this week to raise funds and gather clothing for the victims, said Father Peter Giannakopoulos. His church is interested in raising money for the people affected by the fires and to help replant the charred land, he said.

To learn more about how to donate, call the church at 508-775-3045.

Death and desolation after the inferno on road from Artemida village September 1, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News.
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People of the Peloponnese lost relatives, homes and livelihoods in worst disaster for decades to hit their picturesque land

The flames rolled over the road all at once and when they came, Spyros Bilionis did instinctively what he did not want to do: he drove straight into them. With Pandazis Chronopoulos, the Mayor of Zaharo, in the passenger seat screaming not to stop he pointed his silver jeep at the inferno and closed his eyes.

Neither man is sure how long it lasted. Only that the fire, white-hot and fearless, licked at the windows of the vehicle, buckling them as if they were toffee, searing the men’s feet and burning their lips dry. “We said ‘Hail Mary, Hail, Hail Mary’, and just drove. I couldn’t see a thing, there was so much smoke, but I knew the road was straight and closed my eyes,” said Mr Bilionis, recounting his experience of the deadliest fires to hit Greece since its birth as a modern state.

And then it was over. The road leading to Artemida, in the Peloponnese, was suddenly visible, a promise of life through the billowing smoke.

“I cried. I wept and said thank you, thank you, dear Mary, thank you,” continued the 38-year-old, still shaking his head in disbelief.

Athanasia Paraskevopoulou and her four children were not as lucky. Minutes earlier the Athenian schoolteacher had taken the same road and gone with her instincts: when she reached the fork leading out of Artemida she decided to outrace the flames and not drive through them. In a fraction of a second her car hurtled down the road, as others realising their terrible mistake, that the conflagration was already upon them, desperately tried to turn back.

“If she had turned right at that fork and taken the upper road out, as I did, she would have survived,” said Giorgos Kosifas, her uncle. “But at such times you panic and that is what Athanasia did,” said the farmer who, as Artemida’s mayor, was one of the last to leave on a moped.

“She drove down that road and straight into what seems to have been a crash. Some people managed to escape, and ran into the olive groves only to die there, but when we found her she was still in the car, holding her children tight.”

Today it is scorched sandals, a pair of children’s shorts, a blackened piece of skirt and other tokens of death that litter a hill turned white by the flames. More people died on the road out of Artemida, and of the 64 people killed in the fires, most died in this area, than anywhere else in the eight days that the blazes, Europe’s worst in a decade, have ravaged the country.

When Artemida’s inhabitants began to recover after the inferno streaked across their fields for 20 minutes, what they saw was a landscape that resembled a war zone. Twenty three people had died.

“We lived in the most beautiful part of Greece, you cannot imagine how green it was,” said Antonis Bouroyannopoulos, 42, picking his way through the debris of the village church. “What has happened has taken our happiness away.”

The Greek poet George Seferis wrote: “Wherever I go Greece wounds me.” But nothing would wound him more than the sight of his beloved country today after fires that have erupted across its length and breadth and consumed thousands of hectares of forest and farmland, devastated 4million olive trees, gutted an estimated 6,000 homes, created thousands of internal refugees and wrought untold damage on an mountainous ecosystem.

Not since the second world war and the brutal civil war that followed has Greece suffered such privation.

In the Peloponnese, the peninsula worst hit by the fires, the signs of death are everywhere: in the stumps of still smouldering olive trees; the silver ash that carpets the land; the charred remains of carcasses putrefying in the summer heat; the trees tinged orange as if they are wearing wigs; and the thousands of others turned charcoal black, their baldness too awful to contemplate for those whose families have lived in these parts for centuries.

For the few tourists in the affected areas, it is as if they have encountered the “darkness visible” of Milton’s Paradise Lost.

“Tell me, in God’s name, how are we ever going to live in this?” cried Athanasios Karelas, one local. “How are our children and their children going to survive in land that is dead? Look, all around you, even the stones have burned!”

Yesterday, the smell of charred wood, continued to hang over Olympia, the birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games, which only narrowly survived being burned to the ground on Sunday. As tourists filed into the museum to see the pristine statute of Hermes carved by the master sculptor Praxiteles, workmen were busy clearing up debris around the site.

But with fires still raging across Arcadia, having crossed over from the adjoining province of Ilia on Thursday, there was no indication of any let-up soon.

In a region whose rustic beauty has inspired poets and painters and draws more nature lovers than any other part of Greece, vast swaths of land have been turned to ash as fires, for the first time ever, have devoured fir, olive and pine forests.

“What’s so dreadful is you see it coming and there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, that you can do,” said Athina Dalaminga, throwing her hands up in the air as she watched flames destroy the spectacular scenery beneath the historic Arcadian village of Karytaina. “We really thought we had put the fire out and then it re-erupted today with the winds.”

Yesterday the first psychiatrists began to arrive in the Peloponnese. And the prognosis was not good.

“People are clearly in a state of shock because they appear unable to express anything,” said Dr Giorgos Kyriazis. “But I am terribly worried that when they wake up to the reality, to the loss of relatives, homes, fields, practically everything they own, the problems of melancholy and depression will be enormous.”

Already anger has set in deep with a conservative government widely believed to have done little to prevent the fires, and to have bungled a rescue operation that went from bad to worse as the scale of the damage and death gradually came to light.

With elections scheduled for September 16, Costas Karamanlis, the Prime Minister, has gone out of his way to offset rising anger by offering generous compensation. But the government’s insistence that the fires are the work of arsonists bent on destroying Greece has only brought more vilification, with many saying that the disaster has instead exposed a political system incapacitated by corruption and cronyism and a firefighting force headed by inexperienced conservative party appointees.

The statistics >
64 > The number of people who have died so far in the fires

8 > The number of days that the fires have been raging for so far

6,000 > The number of homes believed to have been destroyed in the fires

4million > The number of olive trees estimated to have been burnt

Wildfires in Greece hit rare animals and plants September 1, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News.
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The thousands of Greek villagers forced to escape flames that raged across Greece over the last week were not the only ones on the run.

Animals also fled for their lives and conservationists fear that, like the 63 human victims of the worst forest fires in memory, many of them did not make it to safety. Vast tracts of forest have been destroyed by the blazes, reducing living space and hunting grounds for wildlife and creating longer-term environmental hazards.

“We don’t know what’s happened to the golden jackals, whether they died or had a chance to get away,” said Dimitris Karavellas of WWF (World Wildlife Fund) Greece.

Although not an endangered species globally, the jackals, with their reddish-yellow fur, were a key part of the fauna in the rugged mountains of the Peloponnese peninsula, a unique eco-system which will take years to recover from the fires. The chunk of southern Greece, which is effectively an island as it is cut from the mainland by the Corinth canal, contains some of Greece’s most valued natural landscapes.

“It’s not totally burned, but because space there is restricted, for animals like foxes and rabbits, there is nowhere for them to go,” said Greenpeace’s Nikos Charalambides.

With some fires still burning and the immediate priorities restoring power and housing thousands of homeless, no one has yet assessed the extent of the damage, but conservationists said they feared some rare species might have been wiped out.

“A big part of Mount Taygetos has burned,” Charalambides said, referring to the Peloponnese mountain range which rises to 2,404 metres (7,887 ft) above sea level.

“It’s seen as one of the jewels, one of our most important forest areas and it has 21 endemic species of plants which are not found anywhere else in the world.”

Vast swathes of pine forest, home to birds of prey and wild boar were also razed by the flames. That is not just bad news for the animals who lived there, but might also pose an on-going environmental risk.

Kalamata, a city which gave its name to the dark olives which remain an agricultural staple of the region, could be at risk of flooding now that the vegetation which once absorbed rainwater in the nearby mountains has gone, said Charalambides.

The area might also suffer changes to its local micro-climate, he said. “The green used to cool the area and spread humidity, now there’s just a black box which will absorb heat by day and let it out at night, making life tougher for people who live there.”

For the wildlife, the one good news from the fires is that local authorities have banned hunting in what is usually peak season in order to spare the surviving creatures any further carnage.