NEWS

Charred Attica forest still bare

About a year after a fire destroyed some 1,000 hectares of land in eastern Attica, the area remains without trees and under construction in some parts even though the government promised the whole area would be replanted. The fire which hit the coastal resorts of Rafina and Nea Makri last July was considered one of the worst in the area, razing 100 houses. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, whose main residence is located in Rafina, announced then that the charred land would remain classified as forest. But local officials immediately expressed concerns that the area will likely be developed after arsonists were blamed for the blaze. Professional and private developers often build on forest areas after fires using legal loopholes before new trees are planted. Normally, it is illegal to build on land that is registered as part of a forest or is to be reforested. According to a decision made by the Eastern Attica Prefecture in February, about 230 hectares razed in last year’s fire are exempt from reforestation because authorities concluded that there were no trees there before the blaze. Prefectural officials drew that conclusion by studying aerial photos shot from planes and satellites that showed only bushes there. But sources close to the issue said the aerial photo evidence is a poor criterion for such a conclusion since the trees may have been cut down by developers before the fire. The decision means that more than 20 percent of land razed by the blaze can be used for other purposes, including development. Over the last decade, fires have destroyed some 14,000 hectares of forest in Attica. Of that amount, only 7,500 hectares has been set aside for reforestation. On Mount Pendeli, north of Athens, forest rangers estimate that 22 building cooperatives are seeking land hit by fires in recent years.