NEWS

Fires ease as PM vows to protect forests

Firefighters were aided by the weather this weekend in their efforts to contain forest fires in northern, central Greece and Attica as Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis pledged yesterday to stop developers building on any of the burned land. «All the forestland that has been burned has automatically been set aside for reforestation,» said Karamanlis during a speech to New Democracy members in Ioannina, northwestern Greece. «Wherever there was forest, there will be forest again. I say it and I mean it.» He emphasized that efforts would be made to restore the national park on Mount Parnitha in Attica, where more than 2,000 hectares of forest was burned last week. «The scar left by the fire in Parnitha is also a scar on our soul,» said the prime minister. The government has been heavily criticized for an apparent lack of organization in combating forest fires over the last few days. «Mr Karamanlis did not have one word to say about his and his government’s responsibility,» said PASOK spokesman Petros Efthymiou, who described the large fires on Parnitha and in Pelion as «biblical catastrophes.» Karamanlis defended his administration by pointing to record temperatures that led to an unprecedented 300 fires breaking out in just over a week. However, there are indications that an initial reluctance to use aircraft to drop water on the Parnitha fire, when it broke out in Dervenohoria, probably led to the blaze spreading so rapidly. Authorities attempted to stem the fire by land, fearing that dropping water from the sky would damage electricity pylons in the area and lead to a blackout in Athens. Firefighters also claimed that fire protection zones had not been kept clear of deadwood. Rainfall in northern and central Greece on Saturday helped put out many of the 50 fires burning over the weekend, including one in Halkidiki, as firefighters contained the blazes in Pelion and Parnitha.