Fires stir Greeks into extending a helping hand

The recent string of destructive wildfires across Greece appear to have prompted a number of Greeks to take a more keen, and active, interest in the environment as the green organization WWF Greece indicated yesterday that there had been a 900 percent increase in people offering to help clean up and protect forests. The environmental group told Kathimerini that it usually receives around 100 applications from people volunteering their time to help on these sorts of projects. However, following the devastating fire on Mount Parnitha, north of Athens, in June, some 900 people have expressed an interest in becoming volunteers with WWF. «From September, we will see how we will make use of this interest in areas that have been damaged by fire,» said WWF spokeswoman Maria Panteri. WWF said it was also pleased by the response to an electronic petition that has been circulating the last few days to collect signatures asking the government to guarantee it will protect the forests and prevent any illegal construction on burned land. «It is notable that only 20 days were needed to collect 12,000 electronic signatures for the petition to the prime minister,» said Panteri. WWF Greece, which is working with Kathimerini and Skai Radio and TV to establish an observatory on Mount Parnitha, said that the number of people donating money to the organization has increased by 30 percent over the last two years. Authorities now have to find a way of incorporating these volunteers into their actions as there is no official system for using members of the public in efforts to protect forests. Meanwhile, news from Cassandra in Halkidiki, which was ravaged by fire last year, could provide authorities in Attica with hope as there are signs that the burned forest is recovering and vegetation has reappeared in two-thirds of the area. «We followed scientists’ instructions and let the forest regenerate on its own,» the director of Halkidiki’s forest service, Lefteris Pitsokas, told Kathimerini. He revealed that there was limited planting of new trees in the area and local authorities hope that in 15 years the signs of the fire will no longer be visible. As for this summer’s wildfires, yesterday proved to be an easier day for the fire service, which did not have any major fronts to contend with. A small blaze in Vari, southeastern Athens, was put out within an hour before inflicting substantial damage.