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Fires in Attika 2009

For the third day the fires are burning to the north of Athens. If I turn on the television I have a choice of images and interviews. If I go to my roof I can see smoke on the southwestern horizon, the setting sun actually makes it kind of beautiful. They say the city smells like smoke but I don't smell it and ashes are not raining down in my downtown neighborhood. In fact except for the TVs which are showing the fires unless there is a game on, it seems pretty normal here. I know there is an impenetrable wall of concrete between downtown Athens and the closest fires, in the form of apartment buildings, sidewalks and streets so I don't have an escape plan. I am thinking about going to the islands today, just because it is still summer, though despite the fires Athens has been very nice. No humidity and the winds have kept it cool, more like mid-September than August. On TV the government is being blamed again for having done nothing since the last fires, but doing nothing is what they do best so what else is new?

I could go on but I think this will be over in a day or so because once the last of the pine trees and dead brush are burned, where is the fire going to go? It is not going to burn up the sea. It is not going to burn up the roads. It is not going to hop from house to house burning up the outdoor furniture on the balcony or the houseplants. In short, the city is not in danger as some foreign news reports have stated in an effort to make it an even bigger story. Yes it is a big story. If you love forests it is a catastrophe. But in the Mediterranean where it does not rain for 6 months and every plant that covered the ground in the winter and spring with a layer of green is still here only now it is brown and dead, except for the roots, fires are a way of life. And in a country like Greece where someone will toss a cigarette butt out the window of a car without thinking twice, or someone will burn down a forest so they can claim land and build a summer house or resort hotel, fires have friends among the human population.

Anyway I don't want to get into finger-pointing because the fires are just another problem in this beleagured country. Seeing Karmanlis getting a report from his chief fireman, unable to string together 5 words without a written speech in front of him, reminded me of George Bush reading the book about the pet goat to the kindergarten children while the World Trade Center was collapsing. Here is a guy in way over his head with no clue how to solve everyday problems of the country much less an extraordinary problem like the burning of the last forests in Attika. And as investigative reporter Makis Triantafillopoulos said on television this morning, when you give positions of power to your friends or as political favors, how can they respond intelligently to a crisis if they have no experience? If a Minister of the Environment has never so much as planted a flower in his life, how will he know how to avoid an ecological catastrophe?

But if you want the best reporting on the fires I recommend John Psaropoulos, former editor of the Athens News who has created his own news and comentary site on the web. See

If you are worried about your trip to Greece because of what you saw on CNN don't be. This is not your problem now and it won't be when you arrive. Unless you look out the window on your final approach to Athens you won't even be aware that it happened. There is a lot of sea between the fires and Santorini and a lot of concrete between the fires and the Acropolis.

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Hotel Attalos, Athens, Greece

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