Firefighters poised for early start

As firefighters put out the remains of the first major forest fire of the year, government officials said yesterday they are examining bringing forward the official date from which authorities will be on high alert for wildfires in a bid to be better prepared than last summer. A blaze on the island of Skopelos on Tuesday, which ravaged more than 300 hectares of forestland, prompted authorities to declare a state of emergency. Authorities have reacted by examining the option of launching the high-alert season, which normally runs from May to September, earlier. Senior government officials told Kathimerini they are looking into whether they can start the season in April. The move would also require an increase in funds, as the goverment is also considering upping the firefighting budget by 20 percent. Municipalities, however, are not ready for an earlier launch, arguing that they have yet to receive funding to clear danger areas of rubbish and brush. Tuesday’s blaze also highlights the growing fire risk the country faces even during the cooler spring months. A total of 53 wildfires broke out Monday and early yesterday throughout the country. Greece often suffers from extensive forest fires, but they usually occur during the summer months. In August, devastating fires raged out of control for a week, killing more than 66 people. Data show that fewer fires have broken out so far this year compared to the same period last year. In January, 332 fires broke out across Greece versus 1,027 in the same period a year earlier. In February, there were 470 blazes, down from 805 last year. Firefighters are expected to meet with municipality officials on April 10 to go over their operational planning for the summer. Other sources said that a report prepared by the fire service highlights that the fire season will be more dangerous this year than in 2007. No further details on the report were immediately available.

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