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8/31/2007 North Carolina, USA

I can always count on Tom Mazarakis to put things into perspective. Here is his take on the fires:

Hi Matt, Although fires are still going on in various areas of the Peloponese and elsewhere in Greece, as of yesterday they were either under control or in isolated areas far away from inhabited villages or towns.

The authorities have estimated that over 2 million “stremata” of forests, olive groves, grazing land, and other land have been burned.

The Prime Minister, Mr. Karamanlis, in an address to the nation earlier this week declared that so many simultaneous fires could not be a coincidence and that he is convinced that Greece was the victim of an organized terrorist attack. Although they didn’t come right out and make overt accusations, it has been leaked by “well placed sources” that the government of New Democracy is convinced that the majority of the fires were set purposely by supporters of PASOK so as to undermine New Democracy’s bid for re-election in the upcoming elections on September 16th. The argument put forth is that the timing couldn’t be better for a “natural disaster” to occur of such magnitude so as to expose the ruling party’s alleged “ineptitude and incompetence”. Greece’s forest fighting force is the largest and is the best equipped in all of Europe, but it simply couldn’t hope to cope with over 200 fires all over the country erupting almost at the same time. Thus, the opportunity to “bury” New Democracy had to be taken advantage of.

Personally, I believe that the fires were caused by every means possible. That is, I believe that some of the fires were indeed set by opposing political supporters to hurt the current ruling party’s chances for re-election. I also believe that some of the fires were set by accident by stupid persons such as the 75 year old woman who burned her entire village down along with several hundreds of thousands of acres of land after starting a fire in her back yard by accidentally knocking over a gas burner she was using to cook some food outdoors. The gas burner ignited some dry grass and with the high speed, hot, and dry wind that was blowing that first day, it didn’t take long for the fire to burn out of control. I also believe that some of the fires were set by natural accidents such as the magnifying effect of the sun’s rays on a broken beer bottle and by sparks flying down from a power company’s overloaded transformer. But, I believe, as you mentioned, that the overwhelming majority of the fires were caused by irresponsible Greek smokers who use the streets and highways of Greece each as their own private ashtrays. I saw a characteristic scene that was shown on one of the Greek TV channels where they were showing flames that were engulfing homes in a village in the background while in the foreground villagers were fleeing the scene in sheer panic. Among the fleeing villagers, I noticed a very distraught man carrying his young daughter in his arms away to safety. As he ran in front of the camera, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a lit cigarette wedged loosely between his fingers. I rest my case! His village is burning down, people in his village lost their lives, and yet he needed to light up?????

After one of the driest winters and one of the hottest summers in recorded history, the average Greek went right on with his regular habits and behavior. Thus, I am not surprised at all that there were so many fires at the same time. There are 10 million Greeks of which over 7 million smoke cigarettes. During the month of August 2.5 million Athenians evacuate the city and more than half of those go to their home towns and villages in the Peloponese. In ball park terms, that means that during the month of August, the Peloponese endured the presence of over 1 million extra irresponsible smokers who each smoke at least 40 cigarettes a day. Do the Math. That means that roughly 40 million lit cigarettes are tossed into the streets and roads of the Peloponese every day. EVERY DAY! Statistically speaking, 200 fires is not really that many when you consider how many potential fire starting cigarettes were tossed into the dry grass. During the week of the fires, the conditions were perfect for fires to get started.
1. Millions of lit cigarette butts.
2. Extremely dry grass lying about everywhere
3. Strong hot wind blowing that was perfect for igniting fires and even better for spreading them.
Regards from Athens,
Tom Mazarakis

You can donate to the Plant Your Roots Foundation which is an organization dedicated to the reforestation of Greece. For more information on the organization including a form for making donations go to,en/

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