The northern suburbs of Athens are on fire. We are moving towards the end of the summer season and after three months of high temperatures and little rain the stage has been set for a drama. Yesterday morning the wind started picking up, and has since steadily increased. Today it blows hard with a speed of about 50 km/h.
I became aware of the wildfires yesterday morning. When I got up, the large cloud of smoke already blocked the sun out. At that point I had no idea what was yet to come. I am no expert on wildfires, nor am I a journalist, so I can only relay my own experience. Around midday, it became clear that the situation was extremely dangerous. The smoke already covered an area of about 50 km and the fires went out of control. There are a lot of rumours that land speculators have started the fires intentionally. This certainly would not be the first time, and it is a hard fact that major fires always start on windy days.
Live TV showed images of houses burning down, with the owners looking on helplessly. At that time, the fire had spread from Varnavas to Marathon (where the Olympic Marathon has its roots), and moving further towards Mount Pentelis. Helicopters were buzzing around my house all day, but the water bombardment did not help to contain the fire. At around 6:30 pm, I took a short video – the cloud of smoke was by now covering all of Athens, moving towards the sea, reaching the Peloponnese and making its way towards Crete – an image from hell.
Later in the evening, I could see the fire from my terrace. I stayed up well after midnight in case we had to evacuate. This morning, I checked again in the early hours and the smoke had died down. Relieved, I took another nap for an hour. When I checked again, it became immediately clear that I had been badly mistaken: The wind was blowing much harder now and the air filled up quickly with heavy smoke. The fire had marched on relentlessly, and is currently raging just 5 km away. A state of emergency has been declared for Athens, planes/helicopters to help fighting the burning hell have been requested from France, Italy and Cyprus. The fire is currently measuring 20 km across.
As for wines, quite a few estates are located in Attica. It is the height of the wine-growing season; some estates might have already started picking the grapes. One area not yet effected by the fire is the flat plain of Mesogia, one of the hottest and driest places in Greece. Savatiano is the main grape grown. The wildfires are currently raging north of the area. Already badly damaged is the area of northern Attica, which includes Mount Parnitha (close to my home) and Mount Pendeli. The suburb of Stamata is home to a handful of wineries, and unfortunately Stamata is burning! Estates I am aware off that are located in the really bad trouble spots are Harlaftis and Semeli in Stamata, and the great Matsa Estate in Pallini. I keep my fingers crossed that these growers managed to escape the carnage. Image to the left via http://twitter.com/sVathis
Update: 24.08. 09:40 am I just called the wineries mentioned above. Thankfully, they all managed to escape major damages. At Harlaftis, it was a very close call, the firefighters aided by planes were able to stop the burning inferno just 500 meters away from the winery and vineyards. At Semeli winery, the fire also came close but was stopped before it reached the estate. Boutari confirmed that the Matsa Estate escaped unharmed.
Update 24.08.09 09:20 pm Anne Kokotos from the Semeli Estate just emailed me the following comment that I wish to share, as she applauds the efforts of the firefighters: Yes, we were very lucky – a close shave, but we survived! Thank heavens for the planes and helicopters and their skilful pilots – their efforts almost certainly saved the winery, and of course the vineyards themselves act as a fire break.