A good year, 3,800 hectares burnt

Despite a rise this year in the incidence of forest fires and the size of area burnt, the government yesterday said it was one of the most successful years for firefighting ever recorded. According to figures compiled by the fire brigade and announced by Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis, there were 9,866 forest fires in 2004, resulting in the destruction of 3,778 hectares of forest land. Last year, 749 fewer blazes were recorded and just 2,670 hectares were destroyed. However, 2003 was regarded as the least troublesome year for firefighters in the last five decades, followed by 2004. Voulgarakis said he was pleased by the Fire Brigade’s performance, especially as it was also part of the Olympic security effort this year. This year’s increase is mainly due to more days with high winds and less rain, the fire brigade said. It added that unsupervised garbage dumps were high-risk areas when it came to identifying the starting point of many blazes. The human factor, however, seems to be the most significant in determining the frequency of forest fires. According to the new figures, less than 3 percent of blazes began due to natural causes between 2000 and 2004. Over 85 percent remain unsolved but arsonists are thought the most likely cause in almost all cases, with one in 10 forest fires definitely caused by human action. Voulgarakis said that these statistics were evidence that there needed to be a change of attitude in the relationship between Greeks and nature. He suggested that firefighters should begin visiting schools from next year in order to help educate children toward this end. Within a few months, the fire brigade will advertise 300 positions in the service with the goal of filling 3,000 in total, the minister said.