Action, and funds, needed to save Mount Pendeli from a similar fate to the tragedy that befell Mount Parnitha

As plans appear to be taking shape to restore Mount Parnitha to some semblance of its former state after the recent devastating fires, another Attic mountain, Pendeli, is at risk of total destruction due to general indifference to its fate. Pressing claims to build on many hectares of classified forestland and an absence of protective measures have created an explosive situation. A yearly fire at some area of the mountain is now almost considered a tradition. It has been a decade since Pendeli was cleared of the dry underbrush that lies waiting by roadsides for a cigarette butt to be tossed out of a car window. The same applies to dead trees. Most of the forest roads are not maintained and are full of potholes. Announcements that all is at the ready in case of fires – which can only be met with skepticism after the Parnitha fires – are contradicted by the figures. Only about half a euro per 1,000 square meters of forest is allocated for fire protection, so how can the authorities talk about protection when the funds aren’t available? At the same time, the natural regeneration of the Pendeli landscape is hindered by encroaching settlements and land-grabbing. Nevertheless, the mountain’s pine forests still flourish on many slopes and reforestation – natural and artificial (although this is still in the early stages) – is breathing new life into that valuable store of oxygen. «The state has provided the 22 municipalities and communities of Pendeli with 200,000 euros and has given the the City of Athens 240,000 euros. Does Athens have forests?» asked Pendeli Mayor Dimitris Stergiou-Kapsalis, who is also the head of the Association of Pendeli Municipalities. «That money would enable us to staff observation posts and rapid-intervention units, cut down the vegetation, and maintain fire engines and installations. And, as if this thoughtless distribution of credits wasn’t enough, the state is still operating on the basis of putting out fires, rather than preventing them. But whenever a fire needed to be put out, it has happened only by the grace of God and the sea,» he added. «We are facing a difficult summer and, unfortunately, we see that the fire safety system is still faulty.» Athanassios Adamopoulos, head of the community of Pikermi, says that with the 10,000 euros in subsidies and the 10 staff members he has been allocated, it is impossible to clear the 1,500 hectares of forest under his jurisdiction. «What I can do immediately is to invite locals to act as volunteers,» he said. Nea Pendeli Mayor Costas Korkovitsas tells a similar tale. «Due to poor maintenance, a large quantity of very flammable biomass has accumulated on the mountain. Very little has been done to remove it, only an initiative by local residents. The pine trees, infected with Marchalina hellenica, pose another danger. Any funds allocated have been more in the nature of a symbolic amount and are in no way sufficient for fire protection. We cannot avert the risks with the 17,000 euros allocated to our municipality or with seasonal workers,» he said. Pendeli’s fire protection plan, poorly subsidized and with its emphasis on closing the door after the horse has bolted, is nebulous to say the least and based on voluntary work. The Association for the Protection and Restoration of Mt Pendeli mans 40 observation posts between Artemis and Kryoneri, as well as having rapid-intervention units and 15 fire trucks. «Whenever we thought the state would save us from the fires, we only saw the destruction that preceded ‘successful’ extinguishing, followed by an invasion of land-grabbers and building cooperatives,» said Pendeli’s mayor. «If we didn’t have the volunteers doing night shifts at the observation posts, there wouldn’t be a blade of greenery on the mountain now.» The picture Pendeli presents today runs the full spectrum from charred remains of fires of recent years to signs of nature’s ability to regenerate itself. Once wooded and now bare slopes have began to sprout pine seedlings, either the result of spontaneous regrowth or planted by volunteers. The question, of course, remains as to whether these seedlings will ever become a forest, not only due to fires but also due to encroaching concrete. At present, the slopes of Pendeli are also sprouting small settlements of luxury homes which are spreading at a rapid rate, covering large forested areas and stealing one of Athens’s oxygen sources. «The state has to protect the mountain’s natural development, meaning the small trees that have been planted with a great deal of effort, by supporting the work of the local authorities,» said Adamopoulos. «We are waging a major battle to protect the environment of Pendeli from fires and land-grabbers but unfortunately we are on our own,» added Korkovitsas. «The new forests have been left to their fate, even though Pendeli has been the target of arsonists and land-grabbers with systematic fires since 1978. One would expect at least the thinning out of smaller pines so they can grow properly, but not even that is being done. On the contrary, we see gigantic construction sites eating away at the mountainsides and young trees being swallowed up by concrete.»