Bracing for harder times this month


A woman rests on board a ferry at the port of the village of Pefki, as a wildfire burns on the island of Evia, Sunday. [Reuters]

As fires continued to rage uncontrollably around the country over the weekend, Greece’s already overstretched state mechanism is bracing for what experts say is the worst that is yet to come in August.

According to government officials, the climate crisis is already here to stay and its imprint will probably be strong throughout the month, with many forest areas becoming veritable powder kegs.

Tackling this new wave of crises will be another uphill battle as existing firefighting means – and especially the aerial ones – remain finite despite the fact that they have been bolstered in relation to previous years.

Further compounding Greece’s predicament is the fact that the assistance from abroad is not enough, as the relevant European Union aid is insufficient and many neighboring countries face similar problems with fires.

As for the government’s responsibility for the latest natural disaster, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has said, the time for self-criticism will come soon enough.

The government came under fire from opposition parties and critics, particularly for the delayed response of the state apparatus during the resurgence of the wildfires on Thursday night in Attica. While acknowledging that firefighting forces were limited, state officials pointed out that the blazes in Evia and Ilia were raging out of control, and it was not possible to keep “reserves on standby given that the situation around Athens appeared at the time to have been placed, albeit temporarily, under relative control.”

Mitsotakis’ aides also noted that although in many cases the fires had ripped through residential areas, up until Friday night at least, no human lives were endangered. One firefighting volunteer died on Friday after an electricity pole fell on him.

Moreover, they stressed that the 112 emergency communications service for the timely notification of citizens and the plan that was prepared for the evacuation of the settlements worked well, presupposing a high level of coordination. 

Even though the task at hand was far greater than expected, aides dismissed speculation that Greece was unprepared.

They insisted that all firefighting means were leased on time for the firefighting period. A total of 31 water-dropping aircraft were leased at a cost of 49,149,200 euros – without including the cost of their deployment, which is projected to be the same amount. In 2020 a total of 21 aircraft were leased at a price, without flight costs, amounting to 31,565,000 euros.