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Greece: Wildfires encroaching on Athens

Wildfires broke out on Friday night in Northeast Attica in Greece and rapidly consumed large tracts of forested land and properties. In just two days, they reached the northernmost suburbs of Athens, reawakening memories of destruction in the nightmarish forest fires of 2007.

Greek blogger mindstripper posted the view from her balcony on Saturday evening on the scratch blog:

‘Ωρα Αθήνας 8μμ
fireathens
Κι εγώ θέλω να φύγω από το σπίτι μου.

Athens time 8pm. And I want to leave home.

A day later, London-based photographer mlazopoulou posted a photo taken from an airplane:

She commented, “Just can't describe this with words…”

Live views of the fire

On Sunday night, a webcam in the forest of Schinias recorded snapshots of advancing fires until the camera temporarily went out of order (it is now working again).

Schinias webcam image on Aug 24 at 1:53 AM in Greece

Schinias webcam image on Aug 24 at 1:53 AM in Greece

The New Athenian chronicled the events of early Sunday, when the fire reached the Pendeli suburb of Athens:

Many local residents had spent the night protecting their homes. On Sunday morning they were still doing what they could to put out small fires near their homes, beating them with olive branches and shovels, or forming human chains to relay buckets of water filled using yard hoses. The air was thick with acrid smoke, and people were covering their faces with T-shirts, kerchiefs and towels to work. [..]

Many Pendeli residents were waiting until the last moment to evacuate their houses. The roads were still lined with parked vehicles in late morning. Many people were waiting outside their homes, faces covered, their dogs beside them on leashes. From the invisible depths of the smoke explosions were audible – natural gas tanks, perhaps, or cars exploding.

On Twitter, people referred to a Google Maps mashup, with data from the fire information agency FIRMS, to monitor the fires and quickly settled on a hashtag (#grfires) to aggregate tweets related to the fire. Most messages repeated information broadcast on TV, as well as media and political criticism, with little actual firsthand reporting.

Twitter user @savvakos provided some firsthand reports of advancing fire fronts, complete with Google Maps coordinates:

Ενεργό μέτωπο της φωτιάς στην Σταμάτα, λίγο πριν από την πλατεία #grfires http://bit.ly/t38Z5 http://twitpic.com/ezarv

Active fire front in Stamata, just beyond the square #grfires http://bit.ly/t38Z5 http://twitpic.com/ezarv

Also on Twitter, @kyanoun posted a real-time video with commentary using Qik from his car while he drove down a smoke-clouded Attica highway.

Flickering lights in the dark

Sunset is a dreaded time during times of fire, because aircraft are grounded and firefighting efforts are severely hampered. Eric Parks described this dramatic moment on Twitter:

@erictparks: Sunset & we're watching daring air crews make final drops in little light. Darkness reveals hundreds of points of fire on the mountains.

Greek web designer Dimitrios Doukoglou posted this photo on Twitpic on August 23:

Posted on Twitpic on August 23, 2009 by dukeoglue
The view from my roof, yesterday night. #grfires

Several people posted mobile phone photos on Twitter using the Twitpic application, and a Greek software developer provided an auto-refreshing web service to aggregate them, using the #grfires hashtag.

Politics in times of fire

Teacher Dude, a citizen photo-journalist based in Thessaloniki focused on the political connection between wildfires and national elections:

Although Greece regularly has wildfires a study carried out by the Athens University of Economics suggested that there was a direct link between their destructiveness and national elections. According to Spyros Skouras and Nikos Christodoulakis half of the forest lost through fires in the last 54 years took place in the 16 years in which elections were held.

The last serious fires to hit the country in 2007 took place just weeks before parliamentary elections and most political analysts consider the announcement of new elections within the next few months a certainty.

Teacher Dude reminisced on Twitter about an earlier firefighting effort in which he himself took part:

I keep on remembering what happened here in Saloniki in 1997. I volunteered to help fight the fires. Scary how fast they can move.

… and also commented wryly that:

The New Democracy [governing party] logo has new meaning now. http://tinyurl.com/m4mafa #grfires

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