Forest fires have claimed more than 10 percent of Greece's forests between 1983 and 2008, according to the findings of a report entitled "Forest Fires of Greece: 1983-2008" that was released on Thursday. In roughly half these fires, the original cause remains unknown.
The total expanse of territory burnt during that period is estimated at just over 1.3613 million hectares or 1,200 square metres for every resident in the country.
The study was conducted by the Institute of Mediterranean Forest Ecosystems and Forest Products Technology of the National Agricultural Research Foundation and the environmental group WWF Hellas.
The full report is available online in Greek at the site http://www.oikoskopio.gr/pyroskopio/pdfs/pyrkagies-ellada.pdf and the interactive website http://www.oikoskopio.gr/pyroskopio/index.php).
The study begins in 1983, the year in which the Greek forestry service began to keep records of a large number of parameters linked to each incident of fire, until the year 2008. The results are presented in 10 volumes, one for each of the geographical divisions of the country and one for the country as a whole.
Based on its findings, there are 1,465 forest fires in Greece each year on average, which burn 52,400 hectares of forest and agricultural land annually. The highest incidence of fires is in the Peloponnese, which accounts for 19 percent of fires and 27 percent of burnt territory.
Up to 47 percent of burnt territories were burned in fires whose cause has never been discovered, 11 percent were the result of either proven or possible intended arson and 9 percent result from the burning of pasture.
The month in which the biggest disasters and greatest numbers of incidents occurs is August but the most ferocious fires take place in July. Incidents at the weekend are more devastating compared with those on weekdays and most fires begin after 2:00 p.m.
The average response time of fire-fighting forces to the report of a fire is 36 minutes and the average duration of forest fires is about 15 hours.
One of the interesting and perhaps surprising facts arising from the report is that fire-fighting aircraft are useful in combating fires when they are just beginning but are less effective at dealing with extended fronts, leading to the conclusion that the way they are used needs to be re-evaluated.