May 18, 2024
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By Hélène COLLIOPOULOU

Athanassia, atop the metal ladder she is perched on, helps her husband nail down the temporary roof for their animals who survived an August fire in northeastern Greece.

The only thing left of their former sheepfold, which was located near the Greek/Turkish border, is a pile made of iron and other materials.

Only three of Pistola’s 80 goats survived with their backs still scorched.

The European Commission has classified the Dadia Fire as being the most intense fire ever seen in Europe.

Kostas Pistolas (63), whose family is involved in cattle farming in the region since the beginning of the 20th century, said: “We didn’t expect the fire spread so fast… It crossed 40 km (25 miles), in just eight hours.”

Apocalyptic Landscape

He fixes his gaze on the dozen cows that are still alive, wandering through a landscape of charred trees.

The fire burned for more than three weeks and destroyed 90,000 acres of crops and woods in an area that is protected by European Natura and renowned as a biodiversity hotspot.

According to Dora Skartsi of the Thrace Biodiversity Protection Association, hundreds of animals, including deer and reptiles, were killed in the park.

Skartsi, an AFP reporter, said that it was “a serious blow” to a rich eco-system.

This area of southwest Evros still smells like burning. A fire started on August 19, and then spread to the Dadia heights.

The white wind turbines behind the blackened oaks, pines, and olive trees are a stark contrast with the surrounding hills.

Two deer run up the hillside where turtle shells are still charred.

In an agricultural region that is heavily dependent on the breeding of pasture animals, it’s hard to imagine how much livestock can be lost.

Kostas Dounakis, the head of the Breeders’ Union in Alexandroupolis (the capital of Evros), said that almost half the farmers of this region have suffered damage: their animals have either been destroyed or damaged.

The worst part is there are no pastures left. The animals that are still alive have a hard time finding food,” said the 53 year old man who had lost half of his goat herd, 150.

The warehouse containing 150 tons of animal food also caught fire.

Athanassia’s mind wanders back to those first few days following the catastrophe.

We both wanted to throw in the towel. We thought of the animals left and decided to keep going at least through this winter,” said the 56-year old breeder.

Locals blame the catastrophe on the drought, the climate change and the lack of coordination between firefighters.

They are most concerned about the dramatic decline in livestock breeding, leading to land abandonment in recent years.

Dounakis said that the forests are now “very dense”, explaining that, without cattle grazing in forest, an accumulation of fallen leaves, branches and vegetation creates a biomass “worse” than a “powder keg”.

Long tree trunks were placed horizontally in the middle of Dadia Park, which is home to 360 different plant species and 200 bird species. This was done as a barrier against soil erosion.

Specialists say that it is an emergency measure necessary to help the forest re-grow.

Sylvia Zakkak (39), a local biologist at the Environment and Climate Change Agency, said that Mediterranean ecosystems are prone to regrow.

She said, “We’ll observe the development of fauna and flora. We will intervene as necessary.”

The park is home to 36 out of the 38 species of raptors in Europe, including the iconic black vulture.

The vultures are back after the fire.

Zakkak stated that “special platforms would be installed in order to assist them with rebuilding their nests.”

The forest may take years to recover from the damage caused by fires. This is especially true for other bird species, such as owls and hawks.

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