Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
09ATHENS1560
2009-08-26 15:58:00
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Embassy Athens
Cable title:  

FIRES IN GREECE: AUGUST 26 SITREP

Tags:  EAGR EAID PREL SENV SOCI GR 
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VZCZCXRO1717
RR RUEHIK
DE RUEHTH #1560/01 2381600
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 261558Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY ATHENS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0604
INFO RUEHIK/AMCONSUL THESSALONIKI 0007
RUEHTH/AMEMBASSY ATHENS
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ATHENS 001560 

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
STATE PASS U.S. FOREST SERVICE
STATE PASS TO USAID/OFDA
STATE PASS FEMA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAGR EAID PREL SENV SOCI GR
SUBJECT: FIRES IN GREECE: AUGUST 26 SITREP

REF: ) 09 ATHENS 1544

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SUMMARY
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ATHENS 001560

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
STATE PASS U.S. FOREST SERVICE
STATE PASS TO USAID/OFDA
STATE PASS FEMA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAGR EAID PREL SENV SOCI GR
SUBJECT: FIRES IN GREECE: AUGUST 26 SITREP

REF: ) 09 ATHENS 1544

--------------
SUMMARY
--------------


1. (SBU) Wildfires in towns north of Athens subsided on 25 August
after four days of destruction. No casualties were reported, but
press reports indicate about 50,000 acres of land had been burnt and
50 homes destroyed. Following an "emergency" cabinet meeting on
August 25, the Government of Greece (GoG) announced measures to help
those affected by the fires. Local press and NGOs continued to
criticize the Greek Government's overall response and coordination,
noting both were particularly disappointing in light of investments
made in Greece's fire response system following the devastating
wildfires in 2007. As the fires abated, press and other commentators
began to adjust their focus to the environmental impact, saying the
region now faces a greater future risk of flooding and landslides
because of the depletion of foliage. On the foreign assistance front,
the GoG thanked France, Italy, Austria, Cyprus, and Turkey for their
water-drop aircraft, but according to press reports rejected a
similar offer of support from Russia. In a phone call to the
Ambassador on 25 August, the Minister of Interior thanked the U.S.
for its offer of support, but declined it, indicating the assistance
was not needed. The Ambassador plans to visit to the affected region
early next week, and Post will continue to explore other ways to
assist the Greek effort to contain future destructive wildfires.

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FIRES CONSUME 50,000 ACRES, 50 HOMES;
GREEK GOVERNMENT CLAIMS IT WILL COMPENSATE
--------------

2. (SBU) Following an August 25 Cabinet meeting, Environment Minister
George Souflias said the government would adopt measures to help
those affected by the fires on the model of what was done after the
2007 wildfires. At that time the GoG established a fund, primarily
based on donations, to provide financial relief to fire victims.
According to press reporting, the GoG has about 60 million Euros
remaining from an initial 205 million two years ago. Observers have
said the remaining 60 million probably will go toward the
reconstruction of homes that were completely destroyed in the recent
fires. Government estimates from press reports have indicated as many
as 150 homes have been destroyed, but recent press indicates the
number probably is less than 50. The same press reporting indicates
the Economy and Finance Ministry may attempt to help affected
businesses by delaying their tax commitments.

3. (SBU) Government officials, including Souflias, have pledged to
replenish the forests, according to press reports. Such promises
almost certainly are intended to address public concerns of illegal
housing development. Environmental organizations have long criticized
the GoG's lack of enforcement of its own zoning laws, especially when
new construction appears on previously burned forest land.

--------------
CRITICS SKEPTICAL OF
GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSE AND PROMISES
--------------


4. (SBU) Local press harshly criticized the GoG effort, with the
most extreme voices directly blaming the GoG for the fires as part of
a plan to eventually allow developers to build on the newly cleared
land. Environmental groups alleged the government had learned nothing
from the 2007 fires and failed to respond quickly enough.
Additionally, press reports indicate the public continues to be
skeptical of GoG promises on replenishing the forests, after a
lackluster effort in 2007.

--------------
GREECE ACCEPTED EUROPEAN, TURKISH AID
--------------


5. (SBU) French and Italian water-dropping planes contributed to the
Greek firefighting effort early in the weekend when the wildfires
began to spread. Cypriot and Austrian helicopters also were part of
the air team used to extinguish the flames. Press reports indicated
Russia was ready to send two planes as well; however, the GoG
allegedly declined help from Moscow.

--------------
EMBASSY OUTREACH PLANNED
--------------


6. (SBU) Post has planned a visit by the Ambassador to the affected
region to see the damage firsthand. Although the GoG did not accept a
recent offer of a U.S. ground firefighting unit from Souda Bay, Post

ATHENS 00001560 002 OF 002


will continue to look for appropriate ways to support the GoG's
recovery and fire response efforts. Greek firefighting units received
several weeks training in California with the US Forest Service in
the spring of 2008 and 2009, including ground crew operations and
aerial supervision.
SPECKHARD