Charred by last year’s massive fire, Rafina remains bare despite premier’s firm assurances of area’s reforestation

Tomorrow it will be a year since a major forest fire destroyed hundreds of hectares of trees and threatened or even razed dozens of homes. In the Rafina-Spata area, nearly 395 hectares of forest went up in flames and another 668 in the Rafina-Pikermi-Nea Makri area, a total of over 1,000 hectares. At the time, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis had given assurances that the entire area destroyed in the fire would be reforested, yet since then nearly 230 hectares have been exempted for various reasons. Meanwhile no attempt at reforestation has yet begun. Arionos Street, off Marathon Avenue, leads to a district on the boundary between Rafina, Spata and Artemis that a year ago was covered in pine trees. On the left is the Church of Aghia Triada, on the right that of Aghia Kyriaki and below is the Mega Rema watercourse that often floods, causing widespread damage. Driving on past Aghia Kyriaki, an unpaved road leads to the top of a hill with a wonderful view. The land here, a total of 61 hectares, belongs to Athens International Airport and has been exempted from reforestation. Rumors abound as to plans for the land, but the fact remains that the view is panoramic and there are no longer any trees. Elsewhere, toward Perivolakia in the municipality of Rafina, between a burnt-out area and a pine forest, is a large area under construction. Holes excavated in the earth are awaiting the laying of foundations. A building permit number affixed to a makeshift fence indicates the permit was issued in 2003. One wonders why work took so long to begin. But the contractor is not pleased when we try to take photographs and hastens to reassure us that everything is above board. «We are legal,» he says. «We have been trying to clarify the situation for 20 years. Now we have a permit. Ask me whatever you like.» He say the pine forest alongside is also theirs, but they have given it to the municipality for a water reservoir to be built. They have also rented out land to a mobile telephone company that has installed aerials. There are several homes in the area, ranging from luxury villas to humble abodes. A woman appears out of nowhere and asks our «guide» whether the houses are to be given legal status. «For 30 years now we have been trying to get the forest declassified,» she says. «We have titles to the land. One person comes along and tells us to get our applications together. Then someone else comes along and tells us to vote for him and our problems will be over. Still nothing is done.» When we ask her why she bought land in a forest, she said: «When we came here there weren’t so many trees, we thought it was farmland. Gradually however it was forested and now it is a mess. Look, we’re in the middle of a forest!» She is now afraid that it might be classified as forest and expropriated by the state. We headed for Pevkonas, where the fire started. Among the charred tree trunks several homes are being restored, others are completely destroyed, others untouched by the fire. There are also a number of brand-new homes but also building sites that have been abandoned since it is not easy to build when the land’s status is in doubt. The most likely solution in that case is a fire. If the land is then exempted from reforestation, it is a major step toward getting it declassified and freed for development.