From the first moment of the awful fires of August 2021 on Evia island, Greek Reporter deployed its team in Greece not only to report on the disaster of epic proportions, but also to mobilize the Greek Diaspora and Philhellenes around the world to offer support to the fire victims.
It was one of the most devastating forest fires ever recorded in the country, burning thousands of acres in one of the most beautiful and picturesque parts of Greece. Earlier this summer, people all around the world were stunned by the magnitude of the Northern Evia fires, watching the disturbing images on their TV sets day after day.
One third of Evia’s forests destroyed in August fires
According to the meteorological service of the National Observatory of Athens (NOA), a total of 126,023 acres (51,000 hectares) was burned on the northern part of the island of Evia. That is the equivalent of the 1/3 of the island’s forests.
Greek Reporter’s initiative was to organize a fundraiser and oversee the distribution of the funds directly to fire victims, bypassing any state bureaucracy and verifying the recipients that were gravely affected by the fires. Our team of journalists were in Mandoudi recently and spoke to city officials and some recipients of the aid.
The response of the Greek Diaspora and philhellenes surpassed all expectations, as the total amount collected via the GoFundMe platform (https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-evia-greece) and was delivered to the fire victims came to $172,072.00.
In most cases the beneficiaries had been left homeless, as their main residence was completely destroyed by the fire. Others saw their livelihoods destroyed, since they were dependent on the forest to survive. All of the beneficiaries are residents of the municipalities of Istiaia-Aedipsos and Mantoudi-Limni and were in extreme need of support as a direct result of the fires.
54 fire victims share funds from Greek Reporter GoFundMe effort
With the help of local authorities, as well as our own team on the ground, we identified 54 individuals to equally share in the total amount. All of the beneficiaries and/or their legal representative — in some cases the beneficiaries are elderly unable to leave home — were offered the funds in the form of bank checks in their names.
More than 2,400 of our readers donated a total of $172,078 as part of the effort. The amount was distributed to 54 beneficiaries in the northern Evia municipalities of Mantoudi-Limni and Istiaia-Edipsos.
In a press conference, the mayor of Limni-Mantoudi, George Tsapourniotis, said that the August fires in Northern Evia were the largest since the days of the Ottoman occupation, with hundreds of locals working in the forest losing their jobs. The mayor’s main concern is that these workers stay on the island, after receiving government and private financial support.
The municipality’s main worry, though, is the future of the few young people in the cities and villages of northern Evia who have yet to move to Athens and other major cities across the country. “If state services do not move faster than usual to support these young people, our cities will be deserted very soon,” noted the mayor.
Local officials praise fire relief effort
Mayor Tsapourniotis expressed his gratitude to the Greek diaspora and philhellenes all around the world for standing by the people in the area in these difficult times by donating part of their savings, adding that hopefully other initiatives will be undertaken soon by private entities.
Concerning the day after the disaster, the mayor spoke about a reconstruction effort to rebuild Northern Evia and make it prosperous again, so that it eventually takes the place it deserves in the Greek economy.
Greek Reporter talked to some of the recipients of the fundraising effort, most of which had lost their homes to the devastating fire. They all thanked those who had donated money, less about the money and more about the gesture, which makes them feel less alone in their hour of need.
One of them said he would use the money to build something resembling a home, “even if it’s just one room, so that I wouldn’t be a burden on my relatives.” Another said he lost both his and his father’s home, his trailer home, as well as a farm vehicle and he managed to save just himself and the clothes on his back.
“I deeply thank the diaspora and the other people who helped us by raising these funds. I wish I could meet them face to face and give a big hug to each and everyone of them,” he added emotionally.
The Fund was the first financial support
All the fire victims stressed that these monies were the first financial support they had received since the fire, given that the state sponsored aid promised by the government has yet to reach them. They all feel grateful for aid delivered by the diaspora and Philhellenes from around the world and they would love to thank them in person for the gesture.
“The diaspora aid is a small but significant contribution to his community which shows the camaraderie between all Greeks the world over,” Yiannis Triandafilou, the president of the Limni township and volunteer fire fighter, said. He added that the size of the environmental destruction to the area is immeasurable and the financial damage to the people is devastating, since “the forest burned was like a big factory where the people made their living from.”
“Walking dead” after Evia fire
Triandafilou said that while the fires didn’t have any human casualties, the area is full of “walking dead,” people with no future, who would rather have their home destroyed by the fire, than the forest itself. “Homes can be rebuilt, but a forest offering so many jobs will take many years to return to its natural resources,” he said.
Kostas Tsamouras, a professional fireman in northern Evia, was in the front of the first fires, helping fight it, while his own village was being consumed by the flames. “I could not save my own home, but I helped save many others in the village,” he says, adding that he believes that the only good thing from this disaster was that no human was lost to the fire.
Grigoria Stabelou is a social worker who has bene part of the “Assistance at home” program in the Limni-Mandoudi municipality for the past 19 years. “I spent all nine days of the fires inside the city hall, answering phones along with the mayor and other officials,” she tells Greek Reporter.
“I was very moved by the calls from volunteers during the fires, who kept calling asking what they could do, or what items they could bring to help those in need,” says Stabelou. “They were crying, I was crying, it was highly emotional.” Their offers were so many, that she spent many hours a day trying to sort through all the blankets, food, water bottles and the rest of the things gathered at the city hall.
Those are just some of the heartfelt stories of the devastated people on northern Evia struggling to rebuild their shattered lives after the fire. The assistance is a gesture that moved them, and made them feel loved and appreciated in their hour of need.