Greece is bracing for the fire season hoping to avoid a repeat of 2021 when it was hit by some of the most devastating fires in recent history in the northern part of Evia island and West Attica.
The new fire season started on May 1st and it will last until October 31st. The New Democracy government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, which in 2021 admitted to shortcomings in dealing with hundreds of fires spontaneously across the country, is stepping up preparations.
Omens not good: Big increase in fires over the first three months
There has already been a marked increase in the number of forest fires in Greece in the first three months of 2022, the National Observatory of Athens said in April.
According to an analysis by the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS), forest fires in Greece this year have amounted to a 750 percent average increase compared to the number of blazes recorded in the same time span in the period of 2008 to 2021.
Not only has the number of forest fires in Greece increased but so has the amount of land that has been burned, the National Observatory of Athens stated. Currently, the amount of land burned this year alone is the highest it has ever been since 2008.
So far, in the first few months of 2022, thirty forest fires have been recorded in Greece, a massive increase from the usual four. Additionally, the fires have burned over 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) of land in the country instead of the average 37.5 (around 92 acres).
The worrying figure indicates that the country may face even more wildfires this summer as temperatures slowly rise.
Greece creates new firefighting corps for fire season
Greece has taken additional steps to prevent a repeat of 2021’s catastrophe by hiring more firefighters, utilizing the army, and banning all activities near wooded areas on days when there is a high risk of fire.
Earlier in May, the Fire Service created a new corps and began training 500 specialist firefighters. They will serve for seven years with 440 designated as specialist firefighting personnel and 60 as scientific firefighting personnel specializing in forestry.
This new corps will be active in forests in cooperation with foresters and scientific experts. They will not only serve during a crisis but throughout the year by contributing to preventative projects. They will also be the vanguard in all efforts to tackle blazes, as they will be transported by helicopter to the center of the fire.
The new corps will be spread out to six different regions across Greece, but the units will be ready to rapidly deploy to any destination throughout the country as needed.
In addition to this new corps, the new plan for the Fire Service calls for the operation of radar and drones equipped with special software developed by the Hellenic National Meteorological Service to locate potential areas of risk.
Increased fire patrols with the participation of the Greek Army
Regarding preventative measures, as stated by the Minister of Climate Crisis and Civil Protection, Christos Stylianidis, patrols will be increased this year while, along with forest services and firefighters, the army will also participate in the measures.
Stylianidis has also said that the role of volunteer firefighters will be upgraded. “Volunteers [are] an equally important operational arm as [is] the Fire Service. Working together they can reach the highest degree of effectiveness.”
A new law voted recently by the Greek parliament bans both individuals and vehicles from entering forest ecosystems, parks, and Natura areas on days when the risk of fire is high.
The decision banning transit, loitering, and general circulation in these areas will be announced by the regional governor of each area while each violation carries a fine of 300 euros.
Emphasis on the prevention of fires
The Deputy Minister of Climate Crisis and Civil Protection, Evangelos Tournas, noted that emphasis has been placed on the prevention of forest fires this year.
“We have given a lot of emphasis to prevention this year, with 72m euros from the EU Recovery Fund for extensive preventive clean-up in forest areas, protected areas, and suburban forests,” he said.
He added that air surveillance will be further improved this year, with more aerial means including light aircraft that would be loaded with water to hit the fire as soon as it is detected.