A bad year for forest fires

As firefighters battled blazes in Attica this weekend, authorities began taking stock of the damage wrought by a fire that burned for almost a week on the eastern Aegean island of Chios, in what has been a very tense summer for the fire service.

According to figures from forestry and fire services, more than 40,000 hectares of forest and farmland have been destroyed by fires so far this year, compared to 35,000 hectares in 2011, while the number of fires that have broken out since the start of the year and until the end of June rose by 19.7 percent compared to the same period last year.

?The weather has been very hot and arid this year, making the fire problem especially acute,? Nikos Bokaris, a spokesman for the Panhellenic Union of Forest Engineers, told Kathimerini. ?Right now the trunks of trees are flammable because they are dried out.?

On Chios, an island whose economy almost exclusively relies on mastic — a resin used in cooking, cosmetics and medicines — and which is responsible for around 25 percent of the world?s production, a fire that burned on several different fronts for six straight days is estimated to have razed 15,000 hectares of forest and arable land, along with hundreds of mastic trees.

Over the weekend, a fire that began in Afidnes, on the northern outskirts of Athens, approached a military base in the vicinity and burned down one house as it spread to neighboring areas before a 100-strong force of firefighters was able to bring it under control.

A fire in Kymi in northern Evia also threatened residential areas before abating.

Meanwhile, meteorological services have issued a fire warning for this week as well, as high temperatures and strong winds are expected to persist.

The Hellenic National Meteorological Service forecast winds as high as 8 Beaufort on Monday and Tuesday, adding that while temperatures will dip at the start of the week, they are expected to inch back up toward the 40 Celsius threshold from Thursday.

In 2007, Greece experienced devastating fires in which 80 people were killed and over 350,000 hectares destroyed.