Support for elite force of firefighters

The leader of Parliament’s environmental committee yesterday backed a call by conservation group WWF Hellas for the creation of a special force to fight forest fires as a blaze broke out in forestland at the foot of Mount Hymettus, east of Athens. «It is time to move from words to action,» Kyriakos Mitsotakis told a joint press conference with WWF. The head of WWF Hellas, Dimitris Karavellas, highlighted a «series of problems which, if not dealt with, will lead to the same problems as last year» when more than 80 people died in wildfires across the country. «We must face the fact that our fire protection system is not efficient,» Karavellas said. Yesterday’s blaze, the first major forest fire in Attica since last summer, was extinguished with the help of four firefighting aircraft and 10 fire engines. There were no reports of major damage or injuries. Forestry experts yesterday stressed that reaction times will have to be just as fast if future blazes are to be brought under control. «We have to realize that this threat is not going to go away, so the concept of zero fires is unrealistic, but we must work on drastically reducing the areas that get burnt,» according to forestry expert Aristotle Papageorgiou. For this to happen, he said, specially trained staff must be deployed in a new firefighting force, coordination with other authorities must be improved and forestland must be the subject of regular inventories. An initiative by prefectural authorities in eastern Attica is expected to help achieve the latter goal. Authorities said yesterday that they were investing 100,000 euros in a «geographic information system» (GIS) which uses satellite technology to monitor forestland, give warning of fires and prevent illegal construction. Yesterday state inspectors were investigating the presence of what appeared to be illegally built structures at the foot of Mount Parnitha, north of Athens, which was badly burnt in last year’s fires.