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Wildfires in Greece: How to save your life in case of emergency

Fires

In Greece wildfires occur quite often and almost every summer. Most fires neither have many victims nor burn many houses down, but they unfortunately destroy natural habitats and affect animal life.

When, however, fires break out in densely populated areas, they cause many deaths, as happened on July 23, 2018, in Attica, near Athens. On Monday morning the first fire started in a pine forest near the seaside settlement of Kineta, 50 kilometers west of Athens, between the capital and the city of Corinth. The second major fire broke out on Monday afternoon in the Pendeli and Rafina areas, northeast of Athens. Rafina is a port town, popular with tourists, pensioners, and children attending summer camps. Rafina is also close to the Athens Airport and has a lot of ferry connections to the Cyclades islands.

These fires, Greece’s deadliest ones in over a decade, killed more than 90 people and caused injuries to more than 100 people.

Since few people know what to do when a fire approaches their home or hotel, we provide you with information which could save lives in the future.

A fire brigade officer responds to two questions and gives us pieces of advice that matter to us all:

1) How and why did the lethal fires of July 2018 happen?
2) What should one do in the event of a fire?

1) How and why did this tragedy occur?
Look … We’ve seen a lot during our years of duty in the fire brigade. This was one of the most difficult incidents. For very specific reasons: houses built within a pine forest, uncleaned plots, narrow streets, many people, the disorderly flight of citizens without an organized plan… led to tragic results.

When the fire passed to the other side of Marathon Avenue, the only theoretical firewall, it was a matter of time. With the strong wind, the fire at a one-kilometer distance will be at your feet in a few minutes.

The fire follows the smoke. When you see the fire on the mountain across and the smoke is directed towards you, the basic principle is that the fire will follow the same course.

Pine is the hardest tree… It is dry with resin, flaming pine cones that crawl and the ground is full of pine needles. The most natural flammable combination!

If we also take into account the explosions of fuel from the burned cars, that’s the most difficult combination.

Most victims may have fainted due to dense smoke first and then may have been burned in an unconscious state.
Some of them entered vineyards and were saved. The vineyards hardly catch fire because they have moisture.

2) What should one do when caught in a fire?
The heath can reach up to 800 (eight hundred) degrees Celsius. Everything is melting.

  • Basic principle: do not lose your temper.
  • Put on yourself and your beloved ones a wet towel or shirt on the face and go away as long as the fire is still afar.
  • Head towards the sea. If there is no sea, go where there is cement. Pilotis (=ground floor, between the supporting columns of the block of flats above), city squares, basketball courts etc.
  • If the fire catches you in a forest area or a field with low vegetation you should do what seems inconceivable to many: Run in the opposite direction, get into the burned area… Your feet may get burned but you can be saved. While you run you still look for cement or road. You never run to let the fire chase you! It will reach you and burn you down for sure.
  • If you have a hoe, a tool or wood, dig a pit in the ground and walk in with your face to the ground. There is oxygen from the soil pores. The flame will pass through around you.
  • The last and most risky method … the “anti-fire”! Always in low vegetation. The fire is coming… Set a fire in front of yourself and thanks to the air direction an empty space will be created so you can pass through and survive, while the fire comes but will stop on the burned ground

We hope you never find yourself near a wildfire, but in case you do, keep the information in mind and stay safe.