“We are merciful to God”: Islanders calculate the cost of wildfires in Greece

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Efstathios Nicolaou postponed his sister’s funeral for two days because the worst wildfire in Greece’s recent history swept through his hometown of Evia, drowning it in dense smoke, forcing thousands to flee and changing what the locals knew life.

Then came the evacuation order. However, the Nicholas and his wife stayed in Asmini Village, ended the ceremony and buried their relatives. They died for reasons unrelated to the fire, and the flames raged behind them. They said that stepping in place saved their home.

“The evacuated village has been destroyed,” his daughter Federa said. “We saw those who were intact and not evacuated. We realized that the locals saved the village. The locals communicated with each other to prevent the fire from spreading to other villages. Some people were almost burned to death. [in doing so].

Phedra Nicolaou, a resident of Evia, said that many houses were saved only because the locals did not obey the evacuation order and defend their property © Nicolas Economou/FT

A resident drips water while putting out a wildfire in Gouves village in Evia. Islanders say they felt abandoned when the fire broke out © Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP via Getty Images

Wildfires are raging in the southern Mediterranean and elsewhere this season, and experts say that with climate change, such heat waves will become more common-some of the consequences are believed to be driven by record-breaking heat waves. irreversible –continue.

According to the European Union’s Copernicus Emergency Management Agency, the destruction of Evia, the second largest island in Greece, is particularly serious. A fire that has burned for nearly two weeks in the north of the island has destroyed 50,900 hectares of forest land and destroyed dozens of companies. On Friday, a new fire broke out near Chalcis, the island’s main city, and firefighters and aircraft were extinguishing it.

An animated map showing the wildfires in the Mediterranean in the summer of 2021.Starting in late July, fires in Italy, Turkey, Greece and Algeria have surged

Evia relies on agriculture and tourism, but locals say its soul lies in industries that rely on forests, including resin collection and honey production, which employ hundreds of employees.

“We were born for the forest,” said Angelos Anagnostou, a retired farmer from the northern village of Kulkuli, where the fire destroyed beehives and large forests. “I hope no one in the world will experience this situation.”

Dozens of islanders told the Financial Times that they felt abandoned because of the destruction of trees and livelihoods. Although very grateful to the volunteers and professional firefighters on the ground-they said their resources are beyond their capabilities-but many criticized the firefighters for being late.

Petros Aidinian’s house near Agia Anna in the north was completely burnt down. He said that “no one cares” and that there was “no airplane” when the fire came.

Petros Aidinian in front of the ruins of his home near Agia Anna © Nicolas Economou

Athens has refuted some of the criticisms, but Prime Minister Kyriacos Mizotakis apologized earlier this week, saying that the efforts were “not enough” in some cases. But the government said the evacuation order saved lives and there were almost no casualties related to wildfires.

The government has pledged 500 million euros as part of the rescue plan and appointed Christos Triantopoulos as the minister responsible for recovering from natural disasters.

Map showing areas destroyed by wildfires on the island of Evia, Greece

Sultana Sourila, a restaurant owner in Galazona Village, said she was told to leave when the fire started. “We didn’t go because we wanted to save our house,” she said. “Fortunately, when the fire broke out, we had water and the firefighters were there.”

Yorgos Moraitis, the owner of a gas station in the village of Roviés, with the help of volunteers and his son Mikhalis (a former firefighter), fought a fire that poured down from a nearby mountain. “Things are out of control, we can only listen to God’s mercy,” he said.

Morettis said that the rain between Wednesday and Thursday helped control the fire, but also caused the threat of flooding. “no [disaster] infrastructure, [natural] Incidents are increasing,” he said. “I am very afraid of the future. The economy is over. ”

When the fire raged less than 100m from her hotel in the Pefki beach resort, hotelier Chrysoula Liakou told her guests to leave and prepare to take her elderly parents, 89-year-old Pariso, and 87-year-old Yogos Take it to a safe place.

“The house is going to burn down,” Leah said. “My parents are very scared, their hearts are’applauding’ and the dog is crying. It’s terrible, terrible.”

Pariso (right) and Yorgos Liakou waited overnight on the rescue ferry after evacuating from Pefki © Kostas Tsironis/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The family was taken to the ferry moored near the beach, where they waited until the next day. Now, Liaokou is back home. “All the tourists are gone, no jobs, no money,” she said.

Near Kurkuri, fires destroyed the resin industry. “We are producing at full capacity. This is a disaster,” said Yannis Gerogiannis, who has been collecting resin for 32 years. “What should we do? We are unemployed and out of power. It will take at least 40 years for trees to regenerate.”

“I am 38 years old. I will never see this forest again, nor will the next generation,” said Angelos’ son and resin collector Yorgos Anagnostou, who said he is now considering emigrating. When the flames engulfed the area, his parents drove one kilometer through thick smoke to reach their livestock and help others. They said that when their truck broke down, they opened a fire hydrant on the road and hid under the water to protect them from the advancing fire wall.

Resin collector Yorgos Anagnostou said that he will not even see the forest return to its original state.

Resin collector Yorgos Anagnostou said that he will not even see the forest return to its original state. © Nicolas Economou/FT

Wildfires swept the forest near Pefki. The local honey and resin industry relies on pine trees © Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters

As people look for answers to how disasters swept their communities so quickly, conspiracy theories prevail. Sourila’s daughter Eleni claimed that the fire was “staged”. “They want to burn us to death,” she said.

Zoy Chalasti has owned a now-destroyed cafe in Roviés for 38 years. He said there are rumors that the fire was deliberately triggered to clear the land for wind turbines. “I tend to believe them because there is no other explanation. I believe climate change is related to forests, which are dry and dry. But in the village, they want to destroy us,” she said.

“The economy will not rebound, and neither will we,” Chalasti added. “I am seriously considering leaving, as are many other people in the village.”

But despite the damage, the rain on Thursday gave firefighters and residents some much-needed respite. “Vrechi,” Chalasti said with a smile, looking up. It means-“It’s raining.”

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