One night last week we sat and watched a hillside burn.
And the following morning …
Well actually, we sat and watched a hillside smoking in the morning, the fire on our side had finally been put out, but it was still blazing away on the other side of the hill.
Fortunately we were far enough away from this, the first local fire of the summer, to be able to watch without fear, and marvel at the power of fire and the challenges of trying to tame it, especially in darkness. Looking at our map, it’s possible the area affected was mostly hillside, but it’s also possible that the fire got close to some small villages.
Whether human life and property was affected or not, the devastation created by these fires can take years to disappear. We drive to Athens through patches of hillside still covered in burnt-out tree trunks from the big fires two years ago, the land still struggling to recover its greenery.
We haven’t yet heard how the fire was caused. It didn’t seem to start until late afternoon so it’s possible that it was natural. But sadly it’s equally possible that it could be arson, something that figured strongly in the fires of 2007. People with a desire to clear land of its natural plant life for their own use. And a selfishness in that desire that ignores the real danger of setting loose a force that is so difficult to control.
Plus a disregard for the costs – financial, emotional and human – of fighting these fires.
A couple of weeks ago a young farmer died here. He was working in his olive groves when his tractor overturned, causing him injuries that didn’t need to be fatal. But this area has no local ambulance service and the local hospital is 50 km away along coastal roads. Not a quick drive in an emergency.
The length of time it takes for an ambulance to attend an emergency and get the injured person to hospital means that people die who might have lived. Understandably residents have protested to the authorities calling for better facilities locally. But money has to be available to fight forest fires, and there is only so much money.
The Greek government have announced extra money for firefighting services this year. Just as important, they are focussing more human resources to investigate possible arson in these events. Greek justice can be a mixed bag at times, but let’s hope that anyone stupid and greedy enough to create fear and damage by starting fires gets exactly what they deserve.