Wildfires In Greece – What To Do When You Are Close To One..

Every summer we hope it will not happen, but deep in our hearts, we all know that somewhere in Greece, forests will be burning…As long as I live in Greece, I can not recall any summer without fires…

In Greece, wildfires occur quite often. In general, most fires fortunately neither have many victims nor burn many houses down, but they, unfortunately, destroy natural habitats and affect animal life.

Unfortunately this month August 2021, the annual nightmare started once again, and more extended than we could ever imagine.

Fires in many areas in Greece have been burning forests, farmland and houses in Evia, the southern Greek region of the Peloponnese, and the northern suburbs of Athens and Mount Parnitha national park, and not only…

But needless to mention it in this article, since it is covered on all media channels, all over the world. Firefighters and residents continue to battle massive forest fires, fighting to save what they can from flames that have destroyed forests, homes and businesses and sent thousands fleeing. Our thoughts are with them.

Climate changes are obvious now all over the globe. In Greece, already since mid-June, we experienced the first heatwave of 2021. Higher temperatures than normal, and no wind. The heat continued for weeks. It is actually the first time in 25 years since I am living in Greece, that I experienced the need for airco on a Greek island, in order to sleep. And not just for a few days…

Greece had its worst heatwave in three decades with temperatures of 40- 45 degrees Celsius for days. When there is no wind, it does not help with cooling down, but at least it is better to avoid wildfires. But we all know that high temperatures in combination with strong winds, unfortunately often lead to wildfires.

When you live in a country where wildfires occur often, it is advised to know how to react in case you find yourself close to a fire. Something we unfortunately never learn in school…but it is important!

When fires break out in densely populated areas, they can cause many deaths, as happened on July 23, 2018, in Attica, near Athens. These fires, Greece’s deadliest ones in over a decade, killed more than 90 people and caused injuries to more than 100 people.

Since few people know what to do when a fire approaches their home or hotel, here is some information that could save lives in the future.

In 2018, a fire brigade officer responded to two questions and gave us pieces of advice that matter to us all (translated from Greek to English):

1) How and why did the lethal fires of July 2018 happen?

2) What should one do in the event of a fire?

1) How and why did this 2018 tragedy occur?

Look … We’ve seen a lot during our years of duty in the fire brigade. This was one of the most difficult incidents. For very specific reasons: houses built within a pine forest, uncleaned plots, narrow streets, many people, the disorderly flight of citizens without an organized plan… led to tragic results.

When the fire passed to the other side of Marathon Avenue, the only theoretical firewall, it was a matter of time. With the strong wind, the fire at a one-kilometer distance will be at your feet in a few minutes.

The fire follows the smoke. When you see the fire on the mountain across and the smoke is directed towards you, the basic principle is that the fire will follow the same course.

Pine is the hardest tree… It is dry with resin, flaming pine cones that crawl and the ground is full of pine needles. The most natural flammable combination!

If we also take into account the explosions of fuel from the burned cars, that’s the most difficult combination.

Most victims may have fainted due to dense smoke first and then may have been burned in an unconscious state.

Some of them entered vineyards and were saved. The vineyards hardly catch fire because they have moisture.

2) What should one do when caught in a fire?

The heath can reach up to 800 (eight hundred) degrees Celsius. Everything is melting.

  • Basic principle: do not lose your temper.
  • Put on yourself and your beloved ones a wet towel or shirt on the face and go away as long as the fire is still afar.
  • Head towards the sea. If there is no sea, go where there is cement. Pilotis (=ground floor, between the supporting columns of the block of flats above), city squares, basketball courts etc.
  • If the fire catches you in a forest area or a field with low vegetation you should do what seems inconceivable to many: Run in the opposite direction, get into the burned area… Your feet may get burned but you can be saved. While you run you still look for cement or road. You never run to let the fire chase you! It will reach you and burn you down for sure.
  • If you have a hoe, a tool or wood, dig a pit in the ground and walk in with your face to the ground. There is oxygen from the soil pores. The flame will pass through around you.
  • The last and most risky method … the “anti-fire”! Always in low vegetation. The fire is coming… Set a fire in front of yourself and thanks to the air direction an empty space will be created so you can pass through and survive, while the fire comes but will stop on the burned ground

I hope you never find yourself near a wildfire, but in case you do, keep the information in mind, since it might make a difference.


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