Report from the night in Parnitha

I am just back from Parnitha, were I was for helping, as much as I could, along with other volunteers. I can't find words to describe the result of the fire that burnt all over the mountain we have walked so many times, and we loved in passion.

I am just back from Parnitha, were I was for helpting, as much as I could, along with other volunteers. I can't find words to describe the result of the fire that burnt all over the mountain we have walked so many times, and we loved in passion. During the night, from the upper hills of the mountain, you could see in the dark lots of small and large areas of fire. Over the canyon of Aghios Ghiorgis, in Southern Eastern Parnitha, the wind was moving a large fire front. At the dawn, the infinite destruction was uncovered. Wherever I was, everything was burnt and small areas in fire were still smoking. MAvrovouni, Ornio, Laghos, Aghia Triada, Paliochori, Aeras, Kira, Plati Voyno, Alogho, Skipiza, Valiani, all of them densely firry and full of animals, such as foxes, coyotes, bunnies, reptiles and birds became ashes. The only thing you can see up there are infinite forests of burnt logs, smoking into big clouds which cover the wider area of Attica. I haven't been in any of the rest places of the Protected Forest, so I don't have a personal opinion, but I've heard the worst news by the ones I have asked. When the morning came, the airplanes showed up, and as I was leaving, I saw some helicopters throwing water in Ai Giorgis canyon. Even if it sounds crazy, there was a real battle, during the night, with dozens of water pumps, to save the Casino, and it was saved. It worths crying, since it was the only thing which deserved being burnt and it was the only one which survived, while there are millions of sadly burnt little trees, all around. For those who have met these places, the image that has been left behind, will be a real shock. There is nothing left, mates. The Protected Forest doesn't exist any more. Parnitha is burnt!

It is a huge, literally, crime, against the nature, with countless consequences on us and our children.

I have a very blur picture on how the fire started, what happened and how all these went on so fast, resulting into the absolute disaster; so I can't conclude clearly and I am too tired to be thinking more, at this moment. Though, although it was not the first fire happening in Parnitha, even if it had been expected for years, since all the surrounding forests have been burnt (remember the big fire in Panteli, years ago) there was no preparation, no organisation and not even the basic co-ordination for avoiding the worst case and save as much as possible.

From a personal experience, when I could finally got a lift to the mountain, there was no point where volunteers would converge, organise and get equipment. The stupid cops, had block all the streets in Menidi and Thrakomakedones, not letting anyone go there. All those who managed to get through, could only get to the cable train station, where some other cops, would only let the uniformed people, that is the cops who were going up and down and the firemen. Apart from the volunteers, they didn't let First Aid units in, with special equipment, oxygen etc., while they would let, after a lot of trouble, some municipal water tankers, driven by civilians. A few minutes before I arrived, there was an argument between cops and volunteers, who wanted to go up the hill. So, a police patrol had arrived, so as to keep things calm. The volunteers who managed to go up, we did in individually, trying not to be noticed. Me and a friend, we bypassed the blocks by taking advantage of our knowledge on the paths and the shortcuts in Metochi. There, up on the hill, there was a situation of absolute initiative, when anybody would do anything they wanted, in the middle of the night. There were water pumps, with exhausted firemen with no help, and water tankers with only drivers  and nobody to carry the fire hoses; a few meters far from that, there were volunteers, looking for water, shovels etc.

At some point, we met a TV crew, on a farmer's van, driving to Bafi. The rest of the TV crews were kept down. When the ravens will start screening what was happening up there, you will be shocked. Those of you, who have been in Parnitha, you will be deeply sorry and really mad.

I have some pictures but cannot upload at the moment. I will have a nap and I will go up hill, when I can. Even if you managed to save a tree, a bush or a branch from the fire, it would be very great thing. It would be the least you can do for this mountainous paradise which offered beauty, joy, adventures and emotions and which turned to a bare area during one night.

Let's kick, punch and set fire to those who are responsible for the disaster on the nature.
  ...BEFORE

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AFTER
727276 Η επόμενη μέρα στην καμένη γη της Πάρνηθας
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  δεν τις ανεβάζω για να λυπηθούμε αλλά για να οργιστούμε
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  727296 μερικές ακόμη
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  αντίο φίλοι...
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από allya 06/07/2007 2:15 πμ.


 

After spending some hours in the taverna of the neighbouring village (1), we returned to the beach to stretch out (on June 23rd). There were massive burning breaths coming from the dark, from where the eastern horizon was during daylight. It could resemble waves by nuclear tests (as we know them from films and cartoons), in that they were indomitable (but not necessarily fast), unfamiliar and sequential (more like light than air). I do not say they were. They could be also a precursor of an earthquake, and indeed, there was one that night in the wider area (NE Evoia). I do not consider this substantial now, but when there are huge waves of hot air coming towards you, why not checking what’s standing above your head? Crawling was the easiest way to go back to our sleeping posts, and this may seem familiar to whoever has stayed outdoors in Egypt for instant, but I was in almost central Greece, in the periphery of mountains of 1115 and 1343m height.During the night some of us had a semi-conscious wish to put sun cream on. There is a great difference between reading about climate change and having to face it directly.

 

 

On Tuesday (June 26th), the temperature in Athens reached 47 Celsius degrees. There has been variation in temperatures among suburbs (we call them “suburbs”, but the city is continuous), in analogy to vegetation cover (we call the city’s remaining non-constructed land “green spaces”; they are neglected and in decline). It has been evident- and stressed by the media- that in “green spaces” and their periphery the temperatures have been much lower. But probably relatively few city-dwellers had the chance to feel the difference themselves or show less appreciation to the services of a café on a shaded square than to the trees that provide the shade.Temperature also rises in areas of intense use of air conditions and traffic. It only takes a saunter to realize this, but those who have been working double shifts to pay back the loan they took to pay the instalments for their car, would prefer to be simply transferred from their cooled rooms to their cooled cars instead of using their own feet (even not for a few blocks distance). However, even for the unmindful, climate change has become a fact.

 

Although phenomena like this extreme heat, prolonged drought, and spreading respiratory and mental diseases are associated with the degradation of our remaining forests and “green spaces”, their protection has been hitherto part of the agenda of only one party (“Synaspismos”), whereas terms like “climate change” have been only recently introduced in the political rhetoric of the two leading parties.

Most people do not know what “biodiversity” stands for, and there is a widespread misconception that “ecologist” is someone who praises natural beauty, has a healthy diet and protects stray animals. Some of the self-proclaimed ecologists have a background of ridiculous statements (similar to the “Χασίσι, γαμήσικιεπιστροφήστηνφύση”) and irresponsible activities (such as reintroductions of predators in areas where they can only feed on cattle). As a consequence, the green movement in Greece did not gain much support. I know people who would say any sort of rubbish just to avoid being considered “ecologists”, although they may be deeply concerned about our future.

 

No wonder why, when the parliamental mafia gathered four years ago to vote for modifications on the forest and public land protection acts, there were so few people protesting outside the parliament, that even the chief of the police expressed his astonishment for the public indifference.

According to proposed legislations (a combination of alterations in more than one laws, some of which were written in such a vague way that members of the parliament admitted that they could not understand what exactly they were supposed to vote for), a forest can loose its identification after an arson (as long as it has been all burnt) and people gain the right to buy the land and build (as long as they have money and political influence). Areas of low canopy and shrub-dominated habitats become excluded from protection, as they no longer fit the novel definition of “forest”(intact tall trees, covering at least 25% of an area of not less than 3000 square meters). I guess nobody informed those inspired lawmakers that they live in a mountainous Mediterranean country. Just as an additional example of complete ignorance of ecology, last year the minister of tourism performed a tour on an island promoting the much promised plan to construct golf centres by the sea!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Within less than two days (June 28-29th) and along with concomitant fires all around Greece (which added up to 300 on Saturday, several of which there have been proven to be intentional), 25 thousand square kilometres (or 6,250 acres - if my reversions are correct) within the national park of Parnitha were bunt out. Covered mostly by pines and Grecian Fir (Abies cephalonica) (2), the area has been a unique habitat for 1000 plant species (of which 96 endemic or threatened) (3), 140 bird species (Parnitha is designated as SPA for birds) at least 15 and 13 threatened or rare mammals (4) and herptiles (out of 25 and 30 recorded species respectively), and more than 80 species of fungi.

 

Parnitha’s protection has been an old horrendous joke. It underwent a systematic degradation, under the pressure of private interests. Most prominent examples (of forest “dealing”) are:

·The casino “Mont Parne” and the persistent efforts to extend its zone of constructions and activities on the mountain (5).

·The establishment and expansion of residences (and pollution) in the periphery of the national park, such as the Olympic village, and the Ippokrateios Politeia (owned and built unconstitutionally by family members of doctors)

·The introduction of the insect Marchalina hellenica, a costly project promoted by beekeeping cooperatives, undertaken by the ministry of agriculture, which gradually kills pine trees. Before propagating its spread into Greek forests (6), similar invasions had taken place in other parts of the Mediterranean (i.e. Italy), followed by efforts to combat the insect by biocontrol.

 

 

But, of’ course, the Greek government “hasn’t had the financial means” to prevent the disease, or “implement any fire-prevention management”, a point made by Byron Polydoras (July 1st), minister of Public order, and a daring advocate of totalitarianism.On the other hand, of the 24 million euros provided by the EU for fire-prevention, not even a single cent has been spent. In 1997 foresters (i.e. people with knowledge of forest ecology and management) were excluded from duties relevant to fire ecology and prevention, which were passed to the fire brigade exclusively. On top of this, the current government reduced the number of firemen, leaving in total 4000 placements unoccupied.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will not go on. This is a picture taken from Athens during the night of the disaster (Eleftherotypia newspaper, June 29th).

 

 

 

 

The officials now promise reforestations of the burnt areas. They always do so, but at the same time they promise parts of the land and building licence to their political sponsors. Artificial reforestation has been usually prevented or delayed and natural regeneration impeded by grazing or subsequent arsons, until the land is no longer regarded as protected. This is how another mountain in the periphery of Athens (Pedeli) is now almost considered a suburb.

 

We no longer need to pray for divine intervention.

This summer’s 47 Celsius degrees was only a taste of what is to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.for comments on the English expression “spend time”, read “Overcoming tourism” by Hakim Bay.

2.but also Fraxinus ornus (manna), Myrtus communis, Phillyrea media, olive trees, etc.

3.Eg. Verbascum dephicum (rare, IUCN, 1993), many representatives of the genera Tulipa and Orchis, Asperula pulvinari, Astragalus thracicus parnassi, Veronica glauca ssp peloponnesiaca, Scutellaria pupestris (endemics), etc.

 

 

4.Eg. Several bat species, populations of red deer (C.elaphus), κρι-κρι(Capra aegagrus), Talpa caeca (threatened, IUCN 2006), etc.

5.Ironic as it may seem, preventing the fire from reaching the casino was considered a success. For further comments, go t http://athens.indymedia.org/front.php3?lang=el&article_id=729555

6.http://www.philodassiki.org/63/article/english/63/76/index.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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