Letters to the Editor

I wish to send my sincere thoughts and sorrow to all those who are suffering in so many ways through the fires in Greece. I am reminded of the Ash Wednesday fires here in Australia over 20 years ago now. The whole of this state of Victoria and the state of South Australia seemed to be burning for days on end and many died and hundreds lost their homes. We know of the fury of fire and how it moves so fast in high winds; how difficult it is to fight and control; and how, in severe drought, there is no water available to even fight the fire. We learnt many things. Here in Australia, we have volunteer community firefighters specifically prepared to fight the summer bush-fires. This group is called the Country Fire Authority (CFA). It is now large in numbers, well-trained, well-equipped and is perhaps the most crucial element of this country’s summer firefighting capabilities. Also now, in this state of Victoria, every summer the helicopters are ready (the largest one is hired from abroad) – and are always on alert in case a fire breaks out. We are still suffering a seven-year drought here and water restrictions are still in place even through the winter. I live in a fire-prone area. Every year before the summer starts, I fill my bath full of water. I prepare my firefighting clothes: comfortable old, worn woollen and pure cotton clothing, no synthetics (wool and pure cotton do not burn easily), boots (leather and no plastic soles), face mask, cotton handkerchiefs (to wet and put around the face) hat, even goggles (as the eyes can burn in the smoke and heat). I stand my old cotton mops in old galvanized buckets, ready to fill with water. Wet mops are often the easiest to use to put out burning embers. I have a pile of cotton towels and a few old woollen blankets ready to soak in the bath and put around the bottom of the doors and to hang against the windows (also, if necessary, to wrap around myself and my dogs if surrounded by fire). I fill containers (not plastic) with water and place them at strategic points around the house. I fill my gutters with water and put a tennis ball at the top of the drainpipe to prevent the water going down into the drain. I have some water tanks which are kept just for firefighting. Usually the first thing that goes in a fire is the electricity. So I have battery-operated torches, useful if a fire occurs during the night. I also have a battery-operated radio to listen to fire reports. I listen to the community services radio station which gives continual reports of any fire outbreaks, including details about road closures, fire action plans, etc. I have planted Australian native and exotic plants which are fire-retardant. I know these details and thoughts are of no consolation to your readers now. But if we work with our natural environment and prepare for drought and the ever-present possibility of raging fire, we can perhaps prevent some tragedies. I lived in Greece for many years and and think of it as my other home. I send my deepest sorrow. JEANNIE CAMPBELL, Victoria, Australia Considering that even a broken clock is right twice a day, the government may have a point in that Greece is under attack. I am reminded however of C.P. Cavafy’s poem «Waiting for the Barbarians.» We have constantly been led to believe that Greece was on the verge of finding itself at the mercy of our barbarian neighbors. Indeed, with this excuse not only this government but previous governments too have found it well worth spending on the defense of the country (in percentage terms as against GDP) one of the highest amounts of money in Europe. The events of the last few days have painfully proven that there are no barbarians at the gate. Instead it seems we are facing the enemy within. This enemy is not just the cold-blooded arsonist or the incompetent elected officials or the sensationalist TV journalists exploiting the misery of others but it all of us who day in and day out put up with the inefficiency and the corruptness and never seem to do anything about it. We consider it normal that every government should spend billions of euros on weapon systems, fighter jets and warships while spending little on firefighting airplanes and vehicles. We consider it normal to have thousands of policeman guarding the country’s politicians, businessmen and celebrities while leaving our precious forest totally unprotected. Again and again over the last several days,everyone has spoken out loudly about the inefficiency of the state without failing to realize that we are the state. We are the ones who have created a system of government whose sole purpose is to provide jobs and benefits. We are the ones who refuse to pay taxes and thus leave the state without the funds necessary to do its job. We are the ones who see nothing wrong in stuffing envelopes full of cash in order to overcome any official obstacle in our path. We are the ones who consider it our right to throw garbage everywhere we please, even in the forest. We are the ones who pretend to be deeply religious and yet seemed to have forgotten that the Bible clearly states that «they that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.» CONSTANTINE NEZIS, Pangrati, Athens Although I am English, living in England, I would like to express my sympathy for the families who have lost loved ones in the forest fires. I stayed in Provence, France, for a while and I saw the destruction that forest fires can bring. It is my sincere hope that the ones in Greece are quickly brought under control. Also, my admiration for the brave firefighters. SHIRLEY WALKER, England