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Fire in the Peloponnese PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

Fire in the Peloponnese

Motorhomers Maggie and Pete Bevis in a Greek Tragedy

Maggie Bevis

September 2007

This email was sent to us by Maggie Bevis the day she returned to the UK after a summer spent motorhoming in the Greek Peloponnese.

Hers is a graphic account of travels among the flames, whose origins lay in arson, lack of preparation and a crisis of climate change.

We know and love all the  places Maggie mentions and each has particular memories for us of eating, shopping, cycling, meeting, talking, camping - all that. We particularly sorrow for Zaharo and the coast to the south, Itilo and Aeropoli - a lovely little place on its hill with the tavernas in that atmospheric square. And Glyfa. Amaliada. And so many other places.

Here is Maggie's account:

Thanks for your concern. We got back late last night after coming on an earlier crossing than planned.

What can I say about the beautiful Peloponnese and the destruction, caused mostly by arson according to the locals ... we weren't hurt or affected greatly in any way except in our hearts - it was awful to see smoke and flames and know that people who had very little now have nothing.

We'd met up Greek_Fire_5.jpgwith our friend Nikos from Athens in his native village of Itilo for the panigiri (festival), camped down at Neo Itilo, eaten in Areopoli. Days after we'd left he rang to say that the cafe we'd been in in Areopoli was burnt down and the hillside by the castle at Itilo had burnt down towards the sea. He thought that where we had camped was also burnt but as he was in Ikaria, he'd only heard from family who were safe.

We had gone through Zaharo on Friday lunchtime only to hear that the fire had started there, trapping people in cars after an accident blocked the main road. Our friends Stew and Katie had gone to Gianitsohori and for a while were trapped there, as the roads were closed. They said everyone was on the beach and the campsite managers were moving caravans left there onto the beach. Ash was falling on them and they said there were old people being brought to the beach for safety. They got out when the road cleared in the night and went back to Kyparissia, where the police told them it was OK to head north.

When we went north from Zaharo we could see flames behind Amaliada, so we'reGreek_Fire_3.jpg not sure what happened there but we decided to head further north. We were heading for Killini, going past Vartholomio, and saw huge flames and fire around Glyfa. Again, you probably saw more than us as the Greeks in Melissa campsite (near Kyllinis) kept the TV off most of the time. I think they were worried that everyone would go - and indeed lots did, with a young German family telling us that the ferries were full but they were heading up to Patras anyway.

We saw planes and helicopters with buckets trying to treat the fire near Glyfa and could see black smoke from the beach at Killini. We were pretty worried and certainly Katie and Stew were scared because, as they drove through Zaharo, diverted onto the back road round the lake, there were flames in the road gutters.

However we had a fantastic holiday and the panigiri at Itilo was wonderful. We were made so welcome.

There was a piece in the Observer 'Escape' section yesterday by the Greek tourism minister that really got me mad: he said tourism would be unaffected as only the 'most ardent tourist' would venture where the fires were. Tell that to all the campervanners! There seemed more about than last year. We struggled to get on at Marathopoli, camping on the basketball court with awning out over the grass (it was lovely to feel grass under the feet though!) I might write to him when I get the van emptied and cleaned up.

The road from Kalamata to Gianitsihori - under some construction last year - is worse than ever! It's unmade for huge sections and the dust was terrible. I even got out in one village to ask people coming out of church if we had gone wrong somewhere ... we hadn't! There's dust in places I never knew we had.

Thanks again for your kind thoughts,

Maggie

Later, Maggie wrote:

We've just heard from friend Nikos. The petrol station at Areopoli exploded and the oil co-operative there has gone too. The police have arrested a guy from Itilo, as the firemen found petrol in his car and a security man had seen him set the fire. When we had coffee in the kafenion, now burnt out, Nikos had been talking to the same man while we sat at the next table! Nikos called him a 'black man' - not in a racist sense but in the way that Greeks refer to something bad ... like dynamiting fish is referred to as a 'black job'. He's now in prison in Patras. It seems that 7 people were killed in the Mani, but as a percentage of the population that's high.

We talked to Nikos about the lack of water to douse the flamesGreek_Fire_2.JPG and, as you know, the dry winter has meant that there is little water about. Indeed when we were at Youla's house (Nikos' cousin) in Itilo on the day of the panigiri, the water was turned off for most of the day. We heard that the water was on in Stoupa so the tourists didn't worry but that most of the villages and towns had water restrictions all summer. The lack of water for the fire engines meant that planes had to be used, as salt water can't be put into the fire trucks as it corrodes the equipment. The fire trucks we saw were very antiquated.

WeGreek_Fire_1.jpg had our lunch with two firemen at the bottom end of Kaiafa lake. They park there and sit at a table under the tree and this time they were there when were making our way down to Methoni, so I gave them some English chocolates (Thornton's no less). The same fire truck was there when we stopped on our way past Zaharo on the Friday afternoon and I have a photo but I wonder whether those fire-persons (one was a woman) are still okay?