The Blue Raccoon

Friday, August 31, 2007

Is Olympus Burning?: Perhaps an accidental spark from the forge of Hephaestus caught half of Greece on fire.
The Grecan Katrina -- fire, not flood

[Image: BBC]

During these past few weeks, wildfires ignited across the Peloponnese peninsula of southern Greece killed more than 60 people, caused the abandonment of almost 30 villages, consumed hundreds of acres, and a wave of fire approached the base of Mount Olympus, the residence of the ancient Greek gods.

The nation-straddling conflagration, driven as a fury by winds and with ample fuel provided by a countryside parched by summer drought, destroyed herds of animals and obliterated farms and homes. Firefighters and equipment from throughout the European Union were brought to Greece, and they were joined by 3,400 soldiers to halt the advancing flames.

According to one BBC report, the fires on Evia Island transformed hundreds of acres into "an eerie lunar landscape" where no birdsong could be heard.
The flames scorched parts of the 2,800-year-old World Heritage site of Ancient Olympia, birthplace of the Hellenistic Olympic competitions and where the Olympic Flame is lit for the summer and winter games.

"Before the fires, Olympia was a place of solemn lushness surrounded by pine and cypress groves," wrote John F.L. Ross of the Associated Press. "Afterward, the hills around it emitted a lurid glow from countless embers burning into the night — even the waxing moon was bathed in a reddish glow."

The Olympia museum was protected and damage to the archaeolgical site wasn't severe. There is an element of mythic proportion; as though the gods either couldn't or wouldn't stop the fires elsewhere, but allowed the flames to be extinguished as the wall of fire approached their fabled home.

A 21st century Aphrodite is stranded and powerless on a Greek roadside as a nearby inferno consumes everything in its path. [Image: BBC]

The government has suggested the fires may have been set as a part of a caluculated plan. More than 30 people are in custody on fire-starting-related charges, and if their direct connection to these fires is proved, there is a move to have them convicted under terrorism laws. A $1 million euro reward was established to facilitate the apprehension of the perpetrators.

The BBC described on August 26 how Athens itself was at one point "shrouded in smoke that obscured the sun as several fires threatened the city's outskirts."
Anger at what was perceived as a slow political response to the fires may have burned any chance for Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to win a second term in office in elections on September 16. An estimated crowd of 10,000 black-clad demonstrators gathered in silent protest on Wednesday, August 28, before the parliament building in Athens. A number of the protestors held banners declaring, "No to the destruction of nature." Some demonstrators jeered at riot police, who responded by throwing stun grenades.

Demonstrators blamed lax control of the forests that served as encouragement for arsonists to burn down trees to make way for unauthorised construction. Some of the demonstrators believed the fires were set with the deliberate purpose of clearing land for developers. "It is not just the current government but successive governments that have neglected the environment and passed laws which have encouraged people to build illegally," declared university researcher Yiannis Sakellavidis.

The president of the Hellenic Property Federation, Stratos Paradias, scoffed at this kind of talk. He told the BBC that creating a national calamity is not the smartest way to rid acreage of trees. He added, "Once a forest is burnt, according to our constitution, within three months the Forestry Service is obliged to pass a decree according to which this land is reforested."

The total number of acres in Greece that have gone up in smoke
since the beginning of 2007 is almost equal in size to the state of Rhode Island.

[Image: BBC] How smoke produced by the catastrophe could be seen by satellite.

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