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Last Updated: Friday, 12 October 2007, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
Greek fires: Two months on
Rob Johnson is an Englishman living in the Kyparissia area of Greece on the west coast of the Peloponnese. Originally from Kent in the UK, he and his partner Penny moved to Greece in 2004 and now own a five acre olive farm producing organic olive oil.

BBC News first spoke to Rob when the fires hit Greece close to his home in August this year. Here he tells us how things have changed.

A new companion
Rob and Gelert, the dog who he adopted after the fires

It is now six weeks since the fires in Greece began and about four weeks since the last fire was reported.

The temperature is becoming cooler and we have had a serious downpour of rain. As someone who spent several days and nights watching fires to see if the wind picked up or changed direction and brought the flames closer to our hilltop farm, I am of course greatly relieved that the threat now seems to be over - for this summer at least.

Although relieved, there can be few people in Greece who can feel complacent.

It is still difficult to obtain accurate statistics, but it is known that almost 500,000 acres (about 200,000 hectares) of land were destroyed in the fires and at least 66 people lost their lives. It is impossible to calculate the number of wild and domestic animals that died as a direct result of the fires but it has been reported in the Greek press that many dogs were abandoned by their owners and left to be burned alive, still attached to their chains.

Financial aid

Some efforts have been made to assess the number of farm animals that perished but figures are unreliable. The Greek Ministry of Agriculture is offering compensation for dead cows, horses and donkeys (300 euros each) and for goats and sheep (80 euros each). The English language Athens News newspaper has reported that some farmers may have exaggerated their losses in the hope of getting larger pay-outs.

The newspaper also says that some livestock owners have not sought the free veterinary assistance available for injured animals but have simply left them to die in order that they can claim compensation.

Photo taken by Janet Branscombe
Olive trees damaged by the fire

The state veterinary service has, however, confirmed that in the western Peloponnese area of Ileia alone - one of the worst affected by the fires - the remains of approximately 65,000 chickens and 5,000 sheep and goats have already been found. It is expected that many more will be discovered both here and in the other fire-affected districts.

Plans for redevelopment

Many Greeks believe that some of the blazes were started deliberately. An anomaly in Greek legislation means building on forested land is forbidden but if the trees are destroyed by fire then this restriction is no longer applicable. Whilst there is certainly no suggestion that any of those involved in these development proposals were responsible for starting the fires, two major building projects have already been proposed.

A consortium of investors from the USA, Cyprus, Korea and Japan have already begun negotiations to build hotels and other "tourist attractions" in the areas of Kaifas Lake and Ancient Olympia, two of the most severely damaged areas in the recent fires.

There has been a recent agreement signed by both the Government and the local authority of Zaharo to allow development of land damaged by fire in the seafront area in the district where the first and most serious fires began. This happens to be a region specified by the EU Natura 2000 programme as an area which should be protected because it is a habitat for already endangered species such as the Loggerhead Turtle.

Seventy years of damage

Photo taken by Penny Phillips
Fire damage near Lepreo, about 12 miles from Rob and Penny's farm
We're greatly relieved that the threat of fires is now over but like most people here, we are still deeply shocked by what has happened. Huge areas of land have been destroyed that will take about seventy years to be fully regenerated. Countless numbers of wild, domestic and agricultural animals have died, and at least 66 people lost their lives. This is a tragedy that will never be forgotten.

Nor will we ever forget the sleepless nights we spent watching the progress of the nearest fires, ready to evacuate immediately if necessary.

One of the most serious of these came as close as six miles from our home and another smaller blaze broke out less than three miles away but was eventually extinguished. We were among the lucky ones and so too, perhaps, was the dog which arrived at our farm one night soon after the worst of the fires began in our area. We can only assume that he had managed to escape the flames and Gelert, as we have called him, now seems to have made this his permanent home.

The future

Picture taken by Jim Jones
Safe from the fires: Rob and Penny's olive farm in Kyparissia

If any reminder were needed of this summer's appalling tragedy, we often have to drive through some of the areas that were worst affected by the fires and the sight of the devastation is both heart-rending and stomach-churning at the same time.

I cannot imagine how we will feel if we ever see hotels, leisure complexes or any other properties being built in these areas which were so recently abundant with trees and wildlife.






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