with thanks to Monique Mailloux, Len Rooks and Trudy Petridi for text and photos
Fires raged throughout Greece during the month of July and, amongst them, the largest fire in Paros’ history. The fire began around 1pm on Sunday 9th July in some bamboo grounds at Aghios Thomas near Marathi and the flames, fanned by south winds, quickly spread towards both Paroikia and Naoussa, sending columns of smoke over the mountains and extending as far as the monastery of Aghios Antonios.
In addition to 29 firefighters from Paros, their 25 colleagues from Syros and dozens of volunteers, a Canadair firefighting plane flew in from Elefsina and the pilots used aerial water bombing, picking up from Naoussa Bay until it became too dark to continue.
Watching these planes in action, it is impossible not to be filled with admiration for the brave pilots swooping their craft down so close to the flames that with each pass you hold your breath and wonder whether this time they have dared to fly too low. Then, at the very last minute, the plane starts to climb up again out of the smoke and you breathe a sigh of relief.
However, the danger is immense, as shown by the tragic loss of two air force pilots - Major Ioannis Mylonas and 2nd Lt. Ioannis Karasavvas - killed when their Canadair CL-215 plane crashed into a hillside as they flew through dense smoke in a ravine on Mt. Pelion in eastern Greece on 15th July.
The fire on Paros burned through the night as a second front advanced through the area of Aghios Andreas and by 5 o’clock in the morning was threatening the Loggovardas Monastery.
The plane returned again first thing on Monday morning, this time picking up water from right in the port. A coastguard cutter was there moving the small fishing boats who were attempting to go about their business despite being "buzzed" every 5 minutes or so by the very low-flying aeroplane.
By 8am the fire was under control, although guards were left to patrol the whole area until the following day as there were still occasional small patches of fire breaking out.
Although we were extremely lucky that there were no buildings damaged and no casualties, the fire destroyed a total of about 2,500 stremmata of fields and forest and the mountainside behind Marathi towards Naoussa is completely blackened. Next month, we will have a report illustrating the ecological consequences.
Meanwhile, the danger of fire is ever present. Konstantinos Kalaitzidis, responsible for the Paros Fire Department informs us of the following points:
1. Between 1st May and 30th October, it is strictly forbidden to burn grasses and other rubbish or to light fires outdoors for any other reason, including for cooking purposes. Offenders will be prosecuted.
2. Be careful with cigarettes. Never throw them out of car windows.
3. Do not throw bottles out of cars. The sun’s rays through broken glass can start a fire. Pick up any pieces of broken glass you find in the fields.
4. In case of fire, call the Paros Fire Department immediately on 51999 or 52199; try to help with water, branches and earth until the fire brigade arrives.
All over Greece, volunteer forest firefighters, whose numbers are increasing every year, help to protect the environmental resources of the country by assisting the fire brigade and the army units in their work. If you can speak Greek and are interested in becoming part of a Paros volunteer force - contact the Paros Fire Department to register.