Viewing cable 07ATHENS2019
Title: GREECE WILDFIRES - USAID/OFDA SITUATION REPORT

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
07ATHENS20192007-10-10 10:25:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Athens
VZCZCXRO5396
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHTH #2019/01 2831025
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 101025Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY ATHENS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0475
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHINGTON DC
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHVB/AMEMBASSY ZAGREB PRIORITY 0324
RUEHTI/AMEMBASSY TIRANA PRIORITY 1284
RUEHSQ/AMEMBASSY SKOPJE PRIORITY 1084
RUEHSF/AMEMBASSY SOFIA PRIORITY 1559
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME PRIORITY 4201
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL PRIORITY 1945
RUEHMD/AMEMBASSY MADRID PRIORITY 1191
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 0243
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0245
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 06 ATHENS 002019 
 
SIPDIS 
 
AIDAC 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT ALSO PASS TO USAID/W, USAID/W FOR A/AID HFORE 
DCHA/AA FOR MHESS, GGOTTLIEB 
DCHA/OFDA FOR KLUU, AFERRARA, ACONVERY, RANDREW, 
MMICHAUD 
STATE FOR EUR/EX, EUR/SE, EUR/ACE 
AGRICULTURE FOR MREY, GKIMBALL 
GENEVA FOR NKYLOH, RMA 
USUN FOR TMALEY 
NSC FOR PMARCHAM 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: EAGR SENV XG ZL GR
 
SUBJECT:  GREECE WILDFIRES - USAID/OFDA SITUATION REPORT 
AND ASSESSMENT TEAM REPORT 
 
REFS: A) ATHENS 1687 B) ATHENS 1700 C) ATHENS 1707 
 
------- 
Summary 
------- 
 
¶1.  According to Greek firefighting authorities, the 
2007 wildfire season in Greece was the worst on record, 
killing 76 people, injuring numerous others, and burning 
270,000 hectares of land.  In response to a request from 
the Government of Greece (GOG), the U.S. Agency for 
International DevelopmentQs Office of U.S. Foreign 
Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) provided more than USD 
1.9 million in humanitarian assistance, including the 
procurement and transportation of emergency relief 
supplies and the deployment of a six-person technical 
assessment team from USAID/OFDA and the U.S. Department 
of AgricultureQs U.S. Forest Service (USFS).  From 
September 1 to 7, the team visited fire-affected areas 
and met with GOG officials to develop a longer-term 
program for supporting the GOGQs fire stabilization, 
rehabilitation, preparedness, and planning activities. 
 
-------------------------------- 
Overview of 2007 Greek Wildfires 
-------------------------------- 
 
¶2.  Wildfires are an annual occurrence in Greece, with 
significant blazes occurring in 1997 and 2000.  (Note: 
As in the western U.S., the Greek wugust 23 more than 130 fires broke out in the Peloponnese 
alone, including 82 blazes between August 23 and 25. 
 
Hellenic Fire Brigade authorities have noted that the 
wildfires have been getting progressively worse in the 
past decade.  Historically, fires occurred in southern 
regions of Greece.  Recently, however, destructive fires 
have also started breaking out in northern regions. 
 
¶3.  In June and July, wildfires ravaged more than 30,000 
hectares of wild land in GreeceQs north, on the Island 
of Crete, and around Athens, including on Mount Parnitha 
and Mount Pendeli.  These blazes reportedly killed ten 
people, including two Greek firefighters and two 
Hellenic Air Force pilots flying firefighting aircraft, 
three part-time firefighters in Crete, and three 
civilians in Egio Prefecture (REFTEL).  The fires also 
damaged private property. 
 
¶4.  In late August, fires in the Peloponnese and Evia 
regions killed an additional 66 people and burned across 
more than 240,000 hectares of land.  Estimates of the 
number of homes and buildings destroyed by the fires 
range from 1,700 to approximately 4,000.  Thousands of 
livestock also perished in the flames.  In many areas of 
the Peloponnese and Evia, damage from the blazes 
suggested that the fire spread rapidly across the dry 
terrain, incinerating otherwise fire-resistant trees 
with super hot flames and overwhelming the response 
 
ATHENS 00002019  002 OF 006 
 
 
capacity of Hellenic Fire Brigade. 
 
¶5. Government of Greece authorities noted that the 
Hellenic Fire Brigade fought the fires with 7,130 
firefighters, 930 vehicles, and dozens of aircraft 
(including foreign provided aircraft) as well as with 
3,000 Greek Military personnel, more than 200 
volunteers, and support from 20 European Union states 
and neighboring countries. 
 
¶6.  The causes of the fires vary, and most blazes are 
still under investigation.  According to GOG 
aupread damage, the GOG declared a 
state of emergency late in the day on August 25.  In 
addition to devastating vast areas of Greece, the fires 
caused an estimated USD 1.6 billion in economic damage, 
according to Greek finance officials.  The fires also 
have political ramifications for the forthcoming 
parliamentary elections, scheduled for September 16. 
 
------------ 
USG response 
------------ 
 
¶8.  On August 27, Embassy Charge dQAffaires, a.i. Thomas 
Countryman declared a disaster due to the magnitude of 
the wildfires in Greece and the damage caused to loss of 
life, property, and livelihoods.  In response, 
USAID/OFDA immediately provided USD 100,000 through the 
U.S. Embassy in Athens to the Hellenic Red Cross for the 
local purchase and distribution of emergency relief 
commodities for fire-affected households.  USAID/OFDA 
also provided the Hellenic Fire Brigade with emergency 
fire-fighting equipment, including 3,000 complete Nomex 
fire suits.  On September 5 and 6, USAID/OFDA 
transported to Greece additional emergency relief 
commodities, including 300 tents, 3,000 sleeping bags, 
and 10,000 blankets, which were given to the Hellenic 
Rd Cross.  The total value of the firefighting 
equipment and emergency relief commodities is USD 
610,000. 
 
¶9.  At the request of the Government of Greece, and in 
cooperation with the U.S. Embassy in Athens, USAID/OFDA 
deployed a six-person interagency technical team on 
August 2 to assess the impact of the wildfires, evaluate 
potential hazards created by newly burned terrain, and 
provide technical assistance to the GOG in responding to 
the current emergency and addressing long-term wildfire 
management issues (see para 12). 
 
¶10.  In Fiscal Year (FY) 2007, USAID/OFDA is providing 
more than USD 1.9 million in emergency and technical 
assistance to Greece to reduce the suffering of fire- 
affected households and mitigate the longer-term 
economic impact of the fires on Greece. 
 
¶11.  On August 29, Acting Director of U.S. Foreign 
Assistance and Acting USAID Administrator, Under 
 
ATHENS 00002019  003 OF 006 
 
¶12.  From September 2 to 8, a six-person interagency 
technical team traveled to Greece to meet with fire 
response officials and assess the human and 
environmental impact of the recent wildfires.  Led by 
USFS Director of Fire and Aviation Management Thomas C. 
Harbour and USFS Assistant Director of International 
Programs Stephanie Fritz Savolaine, the team included 
experts in a range of disciplines, including fire 
management, burned area emergency stabilization and 
rehabilitation, and ecosystem and watershed restoration. 
 
¶13.  The team spent four days visiting burn sites in the 
Evia, Attica, and Peloponnese regions accompanied by 
officials from the U.S. Embassy in Athens, the Hellenic 
Fire Brigade, and the GOG Foreign Ministry.  On the 
island of Evia, the team viewed fire clean-up and 
emergency stabilization operations in areas impacted by 
severe wildfires in early and late August.  On Mount 
Parnitha on the outskirts of Athens, the team observed 
where the Hellenic Fire Brigade successfully repelled 
fast moving flames threatening residential communities 
at the base of the mountain.  Around the Peloponnese, 
the team visited the sites of some of the largest and 
most deadly 2007 fires, including two burns in Ileia 
Prefecture.  In addition, the team observed the 
devastation caused by fires in Arkadia and Lakonia 
prefectures. 
 
¶14.  Following the field visits, the team met with GOG 
officials, including the Public Order Minister, the 
Director of the Hellenic Department of Forestry, and the 
Secretary General of the Ministry for Public Order.  The 
 
SIPDIS 
purpose of the meetings was to encourage additional 
fire-fighting cooperation and coordination between the 
GOG and the USG. 
 
¶15.  To better understand how the GOG manages national 
and regional fire responses, the team visited the 
national centralized operations center and met with the 
Hellenic Fire Brigade's Senior Fire Chief, who extended 
his appreciation for U.S. assistance and welcomed the 
opportunity for further collaboration. 
 
---------------------------- 
Analysis and Recommendations 
---------------------------- 
 
Overview Q Increasing Fire Risk: 
 
¶16.  Climate:  As in many other countries worldwide, 
wildfire risk and vulnerability are increasing in 
Greece.  Climate change and environmental change play a 
role in this increased risk.  Following an extremely dry 
winter, Greece experienced three heat waves in June with 
 
ATHENS 00002019  004 OF 006 
 
 
daytime temperatures reaching more than 40 degrees 
centigrade.  The Hellenic Fire Brigade recorded over 200 
fire starts per day between June 25 and August 31. 
Regional weather patterns caused unusual strong 
northeasterly winds in August that spread the later 
fires quickly through parched forest and agricultural 
areas.  The largest fire in Peloponnese burned 
approximately 44,000 hectares, more than twice the size 
of the largest fire in GreeceQs previous recorded 
history. 
 
¶17.  Economic and Social Patterns:  Economic and social 
shifts in Greece also contribute to vulnerability. 
Since the 1970s, the demographics of Greece have shifted 
dramatically as populations have moved away from 
traditional villages to the urban centers of Athens and 
Thessaloniki, extending areas of habitation outward into 
surrounding hills.  Older people who remain in villages 
are not able to maintain traditional gardens that 
previously provided a natural perimeter, or fire break, 
between towns and forested areas.  As these former 
village gardens are seeded by trees and shrubby species, 
fuels creep closer to homes and significantly increase 
the likelihood that wildland fires will spark structural 
fires.  The lack of a natural perimeter also leaves 
populations without a Qsafe havenQ when large or fast- 
moving fires approach their villages. 
 
¶18.  Familiar Patterns to USG Firefighters:  Similar to 
Greece, the United States has faced increased fire risk 
and record breaking fire seasons in recent years, with 
particular difficulty in the wildland/urban interface 
where new construction encroaches on previously 
undeveloped land.  As such, continuing cooperation with 
a focus on management approaches, best practices, and 
technical applications in fire management will be 
beneficial to both countries.  The following paragraphs 
outline a proposed program of technical assistance and 
collaboration between the GOG and USFS to maintain and 
enhance this important relationship. 
 
Burned Area Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation 
 
¶19.  Technical Team Findings:  In ilization efforts in this area, which included 
contour felling and stream grade stabilization.  In the 
shrub ecosystems in Evia, overall burn severity tended 
to be moderate.  According to the USFS Soil Scientist, 
these ecosystems will recover quickly due to quick 
sprouting and regrowth of fire-adapted species.  The 
soil scientist concluded that Greek officials were 
successfully managing emergency stabilization in areas 
viewed by the team. 
 
¶21.  In Peloponnese, the team observed a number of large 
areas that demonstrated steep and/or unstable slopes and 
high burn severity in close proximity to population 
centers, agricultural fields, roads, infrastructure, and 
world heritage archeological sites.  Surviving 
 
ATHENS 00002019  005 OF 006 
 
 
structures, ranging from homes and cottage businesses in 
small village communities to the ancient stadium in 
Olympia, are potentially at high risk from debris flows 
during the upcoming rainy season.  The assessment team 
concluded that this hazard needs to be evaluated as soon 
as possible to prevent further loss of life and 
property.  The technical team was particularly concerned 
about landslides and wash-outs in villages served by a 
single access road, which could isolate flood affected 
populations during the rainy season. 
 
¶22.  Recommendations:  The technical team proposes to 
provide immediate burned area stabilization support to 
the GOG during the months of September and early October 
¶2007.  This assistance would begin with the preparation 
of hazard and risk maps for fire-affected areas of 
Greece, based on remote sensing and geographic 
information systems data available through the U.S. 
Forest Service and other sources.  Maps would be shared 
with the Greek Ministry of Agriculture, which is 
responsible for developing appropriate remediation 
treatments in fire-affected areas. 
 
¶23.  The technical team further proposes to identify a 
modified burned area emergency rehabilitation (BAER) 
team to work with MOA counterparts in late September or 
early October.  Based on hazard maps, the joint USFS/GOG 
team would conduct on-site field investigations in 
select areas to identify specific values at risk and 
possible mitigation measures prior to damaging storms in 
the rainy season.  In meetings with the Director and 
staff of the Greek Department of Forestry on September 
8, the technical team confirmed that the GOG welcomes 
this assistance and identified technical officers who 
are planning to follow-up with the GOG. 
 
Wildfire and Emergency Management 
 
¶24.  Technical Team Findings:  With combined experience 
of over 75 years in wildfire management, the technical 
team was nonetheless struck by the scope and magnitude 
of wildfire damage in Greece, particularly in the 
hardest hit areas of the Peloponnese.  The technical 
team was impressed with the commitment and bravery of 
the Hellenic Fire Brigade throughout the harrowing month 
of August.  The numerous ignitions, combined with 
extreme fuel and weather conditions, exceeded the 
response capability of the Hellenic Fire BrigadeQs 
resources and infrastructure.  All emergency response 
agencies have limited resources, and similar situations 
have occurred in the U.S. 
 
¶25.  The team noted that U.S. and Greek fire responders 
differ in tactics and operations, which could provide 
fertile ground for continuing collaboration between the 
GOG and the USFS, including: 
 
 -- Initial attack and expanded dispatch; 
 -- Aircraft dispatch and aerial supervision; 
 -- The use of aerial fire retardants; 
 -- Shelter in place plans for remote villages; 
 -- Fuel reduction; and 
 -- Public education in fire prevention. 
 
¶26.  Recommendations: The technical team recommends a 
follow up meeting between the USFS and the Hellenic Fire 
Brigade following the conclusion of the fire season and 
 
ATHENS 00002019  006 OF 006 
 
 
the immediate emergency stabilization phase o/a January 
or February 2008.  Discussions will focus on best 
practices from both countries and will result in a 
proposed workplan for seminars, trainings, study tours, 
and/or other activities, as appropriate.  On September 
7, the technical team met with the Secretary General of 
the Ministry for Public Order and confirmed the GOGQs 
interest in implementing an ongoing program of 
coordination.  Specific plans will be based on 
consultations later in 2007 or early 2008. 
 
Regional Cooperation 
 
¶27.  Technical Team Findings:  According to the U.S. 
Embassy in AthensQs Daily News Bulletin dated September 
6, the Greek Government has proposed the establishment 
of an international committee on forest fire fighting 
and related phenomena, including global climate change. 
According to the GOG Ministry of Public Order, the 
proposed international committee will evaluate the 
prospect for fire-fighting mutual aid agreements among 
countries with appropriate expertise, including, inter 
alia, the United States, Australia, France, and Cyprus. 
The Ministry of Public Order is also promoting a 
proposal by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to form a 
European forest fighting body in the Mediterranean 
region.  In a meeting with the technical team and Charge 
dQAffaires Countryman on September 6, the Minister 
invited the USFS to join forces in this effort, and 
indicated his intent to include neighboring countries 
such as Albania, Bulgaria and Macedonia, with initial 
meetings beginning in January or February 2008. 
 
¶28.  Recommendation:  USFS proposes to participate in 
the international committee, with a delegation of fire 
managers, and attend the first meeting in January or 
February 2008.  [Comment: The United States maintains 
mutual aid agreements with neighboring countries in the 
Americas and worldwide, which significantly enhance and 
support domestic fire response readiness and operational 
capability.  The technical team strongly supports the 
GOGQs efforts in this regard, and believes it is 
important to show strong and continuing USG support. 
End comment.] 
COUNTRYMAN