It’s August, and though I have only been back in Athens a week, I’m really enjoying the rather pleasant weather this year. August is typically thought of as hot hot hot in Athens, and the exodus of the Athenians at the end of July and early August bears testament to that history. So much so that for years I avoided ever having to spend summer in the City. Having a leg on two continents always makes that easier for me. But the past few years I have found myself in Athens in June, July and August and have been somewhat surprised by the myth of the burning August … but I’m getting off topic.
This year it has been lovely, and the past several days I’ve enjoyed working on my terrace, Acropolis in site, feeling the pleasant breeze in my hair. And most of the time that’s all the thought I give the breeze – it’s nice. But this morning I awoke and turned towards Mount Ymittos to see the sky a familiar yellow black, and as I scanned the landscape surrounding Athens from the south eastward and then north, I followed the billows of smokey clouds which reached across Ymittos, arching along the edge of the city toward what looked like Mount Pentelli in the distance. And I gave the breeze more than a second thought. I know the cooling breeze I so enjoyed on these warm August days was partly to blame for the darkening sky in the distance. Basil ran to turn on the television where we learned that 4 fires were burning from Marathon in eastern Attica up through Grammatiko, Dionysos, and a place called Varnava, which I am not familiar with.
As I watched the smoke I was sad for the beauty lost — I’ve visited this area many times, and it was full of trees which I soon learned were burning. I thought about the homes there, their owners probably still away on holiday, worrying, wondering and about our own home in the center of Athens and how safe and removed I feel from it all here in the center. I thought about my my own family, many who have moved from Chicago to California, and how each year fires burn all around their state and throughout the western United States, and I wondered how they “handle” it, year after year, season after season, and I realized that we never really talked much about it, the fires in the United States west seem almost like an annual “event”. And now I find myself in Athens, on my terrace, watching down Imittou Street where I live, the fires raging some 20 – 30 km to my northeast answering emails and phone calls from friends abroad wondering if this city I love is going to burn. I know I am safe in the city center, as are the tourists and visitors who come to explore this amazing city, but still I am sad for those who worry about their homes, those who have lost theirs, those who are fighting these uncontrollable monsters the fires are and I am hopeful that these fires will come under control quickly, with minimal damage and no precious lives lost.
Update … after midnight ….
We’ve just returned home, and from our terrace we can see the fires, flames cresting on the distant mountains, 40 km away. It is surreal.
I’ve posted this because I can see from my blog stats that other people are wondering: Is Athens safe from the fires? We are safe, come visit, knowing that you will be safe. But at the same time, when you do come, share my concern, and the concern of others in this country about fire management practices, about protecting the fewer and fewer trees that are left and let your concern be known.
I’m still being bombarded with emails about the fires, particularly know that the newspaper headlines read “Tens of thousands free fires” and “Evacuations occurring in Greece” and, my favorite, “Greek government calls on Greeks on holiday not to return home, fear of mass traffic congestion”, so I thought I’d provide a bit more info:
First, I’m thrilled to hear they are calling on people to evacuate. Evacuations during fire season are the SMART thing to do.
The headline makes it sound as if there is mass hysteria and chaos in the streets. Truth be told, there’s no more mass hysteria around this than there is around anything else that is a crisis in Greece. Remember, my adopted fellow countrymen and women invented drama.
For those who are interested in understanding where these fires are occurring, there is an excellent fire map below. I recommend zooming in a bit to see the areas impacted, most are wooded and by zooming in the fires come a bit more into perspective instead of looking like a giant, never ending fireball. Zooming in also helps to see how it is that good fire management practices could really be beneficial and rather easily implemented in this country.