Municipalities get funds for firefighting

In the summer of 2001, there was less destruction by forest fires than in any other season over the past 20 years, although the actual number of fires was comparatively high. As a result, government agencies are using last year’s experience in planning this summer’s forest fire prevention strategy, emphasizing cooperation between official agencies, continual improvement of operational methods and programs, use of expert knowledge and local fire prevention plans in all prefectures. At a press conference on Monday, the general secretary for Civil Protection, Dimitris Papanikolaou, announced on-the-spot monitoring of 23 measures to prevent and fight forest fires, as well as systematic monitoring of funds totaling 29.34 million euros (10 billion drachmas) earmarked for municipalities by the Interior Ministry. Data from last year indicate that the main culprits in starting forest fires were farmers trying to clear agricultural land and reed beds during fire bans, resulting in uncontrolled blazes that destroyed 20,000 hectares, particularly in the prefectures of Evros, Viotia, Kozani and Larissa. Although there were 3,441 forest fires last summer, only 27,554 hectares were destroyed, compared with 102,687 hectares the previous year, with a far smaller proportion of forested areas among them. This was partly due to the fact that only 27 days were characterized as high risk, according to the Civil Protection General Secretariat, compared to 54 the previous year. For this summer, fire prevention plans are to be designed at municipal level and will include action by volunteer civil defense groups. Papanikolaou also said that procedures are «being finalized» to hire 5,500 seasonal firefighters and 2,000 seasonal staff for forestry services. Training is in progress for staff at Civil Defense and prefectural services, and over 29 million euros has already been distributed to municipalities. Draft law on forests Phones at the Agriculture Ministry began ringing off the hook once parts of the draft law on forestry protection were made known, indicating the extent of the problems the law is supposed to deal with. According to the ministry, nothing is yet finalized. «Final decisions will be strictly within the framework established by the new constitutional provisions and based on the need to protect the public interest and the development of forestry eco-systems,» it said in an announcement. However, it appears that it is not only the protection of the environment but the political cost that will determine the date the bill is tabled as well as its content. «It could be tabled in May, September or even later,» said a ministry official, adding that the provisions in the bill are «a question of political will to resolve all or some of the problems, or simply to postpone it.» Tickets for intercity coaches (KTEL) from Athens can now be bought from kiosks on Aghios Constantinos Square, near Omonia, which were officially opened by Transport Minister Christos Verelis yesterday. The new kiosks will reserve and sell tickets to passengers who no longer have to trek to the bus station on Kifissos Avenue. Seats for coaches leaving the Liosion road bus station will also be on sale at central kiosks by mid-June. Eventually, bus stations across the country will follow the same system, said Verelis, adding that KTEL coaches will become private companies by the end of the month as part of a law restructuring the sector.