Who is responsible for the recent devastating forest fires in Greece - Kdo je zodpovědný za nynější devastující požáry v Řecku?
Zajímavý a trochu jiný pohled na možné příčiny letošních katastrofických požárů v Řecku při kterých bohužel zahynulo 74 lidí a byla zničena poměrně velká část Peloponésu.
Thursday, 30 August 2007
(a Who's Done it special)Please read to the end of this article the answer who done it is given
You can read this blog in Greek at forestfiresingreecegr.blogspot.com
Για Ελληνικά κάντε κλικ στο forestfiresingreecegr.blogspot.comUnprecedented inferno of forest and nature reserves
2007 has been a very bad year for Greece and Southern Europe. Thousands of square kilometres of forests, farmland and even towns and villages became victim of the worse fire-storms in living memory. The loss of natural and man-made resources was staggering. Fires run out of control and fire-services were in most cases unable to contain them. People lost their homes and some were burnt alive. Areas of exceeding natural beauty were destroyed for ever. Whole districts were turned to charcoal. People in the areas where fires struck at the end of their tether run for their lives. The shock of property loss or loss of loved ones was comparable to that of a war. Everyone was left with feelings of shock, despondency and rage. Shock of how this could happen, despondency of when, how it will end and rage at those responsible and the inability of the state and fire ambulance crews to control it. But one should not blame the fire-service. They did what they could at the cost of some of their own lives and even if there were 10 times more of them they would still have achieved very little. Because these were not ordinary fires. They started on multiple fronts in all areas of the country simultaneously and spread at unprecedented speed destroying everything in their path. One front at one point was 150 km wide. This looked like a scene from Dante’s hell. People started putting blame on organised gangs of arsonists hell-bent to destroy civilisation itself. The mood was ugly. Someone must be behind all this……
Well read this article and you will be surprised to find it may actually be you.
But let’s start from the beginningGreeks and the environment
The relation of Greeks to the environment is best described as a very shaky marriage. Basically for your average Greek the environmental concerns are someone else’s problem and they are ready to blame anyone but themselves for its destruction. The attitude of the relevant authorities also is to pay lip-service to European directives while doing nothing of substance.
A recent example is the issue of recycling. Greeks recycle less than any other EU country. Following pressure and threats by the European Commission the Athens Municipal Authorities installed a number of recycle bins in strategic positions throughout the centre of Athens. The bins themselves, covered with slogans and information about recycling were too small to contain sufficient recyclable material. They were combination bins having entries for paper, glass – coloured and clear – and other materials. I recently used one of the bins in my area to unload a large pack of old newspapers only to find that the bin was full after having inserted about two thirds of the papers.
Later I heard that the exercise was futile anyway. Apparently the recycling plant is not ready, or the money to operate it isn’t available. Therefore the bins are emptied with the general rubbish ending on the municipal dump. I might have saved myself the effort.
Global warming is also an alien idea for Greeks. True it has manifested itself with devastating effect this summer but it’s not their fault. Your average Greek will use his car preferentially to any other means of transport even though public transport is actually quite good and cheap (unlike places like London where it is bad and very expensive). If they can’t use their cars, Greeks will hail a taxi. Greeks will drive 100m just to buy cigarettes from the kiosk in the square landing themselves with twice as many reasons to have a heart condition. They will drive their kids to school even if it is only 300m away, preventing them from walking or cycling, with many kids suffering from obesity due to lack of exercise.
Greeks will leave their hot water boiler running 24 hours/day when temperatures are soaring and the only relief is a cold shower. In the winter they will run the central heating when the temperature outside is only 15-16 degrees and leave the windows wide open.
Mentioning recycling to anyone is inviting scorn and ridicule. Recycling is not for them it’s for others to carry out. Rubbish is just what is says on the tin as long as it is not dumped by someone outside their front door as it happens quite frequently.
I am not ranting here. This is all very relevant as you will see belowWhat is fire and how does it happen?
Fire is a chemical reaction. Its the oxidation i.e. the reaction of oxygen from the air with a combustible carbon based material like wood, petrol to produce mainly carbon dioxide, water vapour and heat.
Starting a fire is not easy and a lot of factors must be right, as anyone who has tried to light a barbecue can testify. Throwing a lit match on a pile of wood rarely works. Much less so, throwing a lit cigarette. To light a fire you need an ignition source, like the spark produced by striking a match, a ready combustible vehicle, like the phosphorus on the tip of the match or the butane gas in your lighter. These will produce flame out of the spark and transfer it to the kindling which could be paper, dry twigs, petrol, firelighters, i.e. materials that can easily sustain a flame. You then need to sustain this flame for sufficient time to heat the surrounding wood to a high enough temperature so that it starts decomposing and giving off gases that are combustible and produce heat and a larger flame. Provided the wood is heated sufficiently the fire will then be self sustaining and the reaction can continue by heating more of the surrounding wood, which gives off more gases and so on. When the gases are exhausted the wood turns to charcoal which then burns the remaining carbon in a solid-gas reaction giving much greater temperatures (over 800 degrees). When you reach this point it is much harder to put the fire off with small amounts of water because on contact with the incandescent charcoal water will evaporate instantly spreading the charcoal around without putting the fire off. You need a lot of water to put off the fire in that case.The history of forest fires in Greece (and elsewhere)
Forest fires are not a new phenomenon. They have been with us since our prehistoric ancestors observed them happening naturally and used them to clear bush to produce pastures for their herds.
Forest or bush fires happen naturally without human involvement and this is well known in some areas of the world, e.g. Australia, Africa west-coast of America. The ignition is mainly electric storms, or other unknown causes. The environment is adapted to fires and plants sprout back or certain trees can survive fires (e.g. redwood forests in the USA). In fact some seeds are known to germinate only after a fire has swept through a forest.
Forest fires in Greece took a turn in the mid-60s to 70s when a number of deliberately lit fires plagued the surrounding countryside of Athens. These were attributed to right-wing criminal gangs working for land-developers wishing to re-classify forest land for urban development. They succeeded. The government of the time either through inaction, complicity or incompetence never challenged the perpetrators and few if any were caught or prosecuted. Lots of money was made by the so-called ‘οικοπεδοφαγοι’ which literally translates real-estate eaters. This criminal activity stayed in the psyche of Greeks who then branded all fires as the result of land speculation to the exclusion of any other causes. However, despite the indignation and anger, this did not hinder in any way the re-development of forest land and many Greeks bought land plots on burnt forest land and built houses on them knowing that their actions would only fuel this criminal activity. It is typical of the attitude “it’s someone else’s problem” when personal interests conflict with those of society and the environment that characterize Greek society.
Another identified cause of fires is of course accidents and negligence. Prime sources of these fires are farm clearance, rubbish burning or camp fires that got out of control. There is of course the lit cigarette out of the car window problem but I personally doubt it is very credible as a source of fires. However in the late 70s a campaign to protect our forests in Greece got under-way and was successful in raising awareness to the dangers of fires close to trees in the summer months. Signs were put up in the roads leading to forests and a TV campaign homed in the message “protect our oxygen giving green spaces”. I believe that this worked.
Then in the early 80s the fires started again but they were different. Spread all over Greece they burned large areas of forest away from any urban area so land speculation and arson for profit was difficult to justify as the cause. This of course did not in any way convince anybody that it could be anything else but land speculation. It was the same old adage. “Someone is putting the fires so it must be a conspiracy of sorts”. Greeks like conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories get them off the hook so they don’t have to take responsibility. As with every other ill in society it’s the government’s fault, or the capitalist swines or NATO or the Americans or the ‘παρακρατος’ which translates as the secret state, some sort of all pervasive Mafia that must be serving the interests of the rich and powerful (who exactly these are I don’t know)
An interesting observation was that the fires almost exclusively happened during the August holiday season when the meltemi winds (seasonal Northerly winds that blow across the Aegean sea) were blowing from the north reaching strengths of gale force 7-9 in the Beaufort scale (30-50 miles/hour). As a result the fires when started quickly spread before the fire brigade was alerted and had time to respond. But the fire services put a valiant effort. Many fires were controlled especially using the newly acquired fire extinguishing hydroplanes and a lot of courage and determination from the crews, helped by the army and locals. Other fires burned out of control until they run out of things to burn. Unfortunately the prevailing prejudice that the fires are all deliberately put by someone or being accidental meant that no effort was spent in investigating the real causes of the fires and the usual news report was that cans were found in the area, after the fire, therefore someone doused the trees with petrol and set them alight. I challenge anyone walking in any Greek forest area to look around and they will find discarded cans, bottles, boxes plastic bags in their thousands. This is no evidence of arson worth the paper it’s written on.
However the fires continued. Like an appointment with the devil every summer during the meltemi season Greece burned. Interestingly the fires always started not far from a village or town and spread quickly downwind until they were controlled or run their course. On average 10-20 fires occurred every season, some big some small. Greeks learned to live with them. Nobody noticed in fact that very little if any land speculation resulted from these fires. Anyone visiting the countryside can easily identify blackened forests of pines even 10-15 years after a fire spread through them. The forest usually recovers and new trees are sprouting but I personally have not seen much redevelopment except around Athens in what was once forest. So where is the motive for arson?The smoking gun
Rubbish that you and me discards in the local wheelie bin ends up in the local municipal dump or ‘χωματερη’ as it’s called in Greek. EU estimates there are about 2600 such semi-illegal dumps in the whole of Greece. They are the responsibility of municipal authorities who must manage and process the rubbish but usually all they do is dump it and sometimes cover it with dirt. However the number is far bigger than that. I estimate that there are more than 10000 dumping sites in the whole of Greece some of them in private some in public land. Some are abandoned and nobody knows or cares for their existence. Rubbish can be dumped almost at will without anyone noticing. Invariably the dumps are near or inside forests or farmland. Always far enough from urban areas to avoid the wafting smell from reaching the sensitive noses of the inhabitants. To paraphrase the adage “out of smell out of mind”. More seriously many such dumping grounds are sited in valleys deep inside ravines surrounded by beautiful pine forests. It’s like the beauty of the spot can only be improved with a bit of dumping. Threats or signs warning against dumping don’t seem to have any effect. Dumping is a God given right for Greeks it seems. And anyway, who is harmed by a bit of rubbish on the side of a dirt track away from anyone to see?
Greece is a mountainous country with lots of valleys, ravines, out of the way nature beauty spots. In a hot summer day when you view the beautiful landscape from the sea or from a mountain top what strikes you, if you are a bit observant, is small plumes of smoke billowing from afar. Close-up and you see the smoke and dust is coming from some dumping ground. It looks innocuous and you think someone knows about it, or do they? Someone must be alerted that their dump is slowly burning? Surely they keep an eye on it, or do they?
Dumps sited on the steep sides of mountains and some mountains are indeed very steep pose little risk as the vegetation there is sparse. For those sited in ravines surrounded by wooded slopes it’s a different story. Moreover the latter are difficult to see unless one is literally on top of them.
In the early 80s I was camping with friends on the island of Samos. I rented a moped and was driving around. Passing a bridge over a steep ravine I came face to face with the local dump. 50m down I could see rubbish galore, plastic bags full of trash, glass, plastic bottles, paper, cans the usual mix. And in the middle of all this sorry mess a small plume of smoke. No fire, only smoke. Being the concerned sort of citizen I was immediately alarmed especially after noting that the slopes of the ravine were dense with bushes and thyme the sort of plants that can catch fire very quickly. So I drove my little moped as fast as I could to the nearby village, where I was staying and went to the café where the locals played backgammon. I entered the café and shouted at the top of my voice “guys your dump is smoking and it may soon catch fire, let’s go douse it with water now”. Having disturbed the sanctity or stupidity of the locals, I was met first with 5 seconds of stunned silence, then laughter, then an elderly local gent said “ah it’s always smoking, don’t worry, go somewhere else”. Two days later the meltemi started and I was woken up in the morning about 10 am with the horrible site of the mountain burning in the direction of the dumping ground. The fire quickly jumped to the other side of the mountain and raced towards where I was standing. A small contingent of army with almost nothing but spades and a few fire-fighters were trying to protect the village and a fire-hydroplane was flying sorties dousing it with water. They succeeded until dusk to contain it but despite my calls to go and douse the remaining glowing cells (charcoal stage) nobody wanted to be bothered. So the next morning with wind blowing fiercely the fire flared out again. In three days half of Samos burned and some lives were lost including a brave young firefighter.
Once a fire has taken hold and is spreading quickly in the face of strong winds it is difficult to ascertain where it started. However, in the few cases that witnesses were able to see the fire starting and alerted the authorities or were later interviewed, frequently mention the fire starting at or near the local dump or ‘χωματερη’. This is from newspaper reports I have read. But then who, but a simpleton, can put two and two together and surmise that most if not all fires start in the local dump. We know who put the fires. It’s the arsonists and their paymasters the land grabbers!!Why and how does a fire start in a rubbish dumping ground and how does it progress to become the fiery dragon that burns our forests
I am afraid I cannot explain this without resorting to some simple physics and chemistry. It’s really easy, you don’t need a science degree to understand it.
OK, let’s look at a dumping ground. Imagine a vertical cut through a ravine full of rubbish. Plastic bags full of food remains, paper, cans, glass, plastic bottles, metal, wrapping paper, toilet paper with excrement on it (sorry) everything we throw away in our civilized world and of course dirt, masonry, furniture like old mattresses, car parts etc.
As the rubbish piles up the heap is compacted and the underlying layers lose contact with the outside world. This means they are no longer exposed to oxygen in the air. I estimate this happens roughly below 1.5-2m depth but I may be wrong. In these conditions insects, and other lowly life forms cannot survive but bacteria can. A special type of bacteria, “anaerobic bacteria”. These creatures are everywhere, dormant and thrive whenever there is no oxygen. They like it hot and humid and they are ready to eat every bit of organic matter they find and multiply in their zillions. They quickly and steadily digest your food remains, toilet paper, dead rats, whatever is there in this dark, putrid, horrible pile of rubbish below the level where oxygen can penetrate. They transform the organic part of the rubbish slowly to compost and gases (but cannot digest plastic, glass metals etc.). Most of the gas given out is methane, the same as natural gas but there are others like mercaptans which are responsible n source. So where is the ignition source?
Some people have said that discarded glass is responsible. A bottle with a round bottom could form a lens and through the sun’s rays an adjacent piece of paper may start burning if it finds itself at the focus of the sun’s rays. Good point but I don’t subscribe to it. If lenses and the sun were responsible then we would have fires in sunny days in the winter and we don’t. There are lots of sunny days in winter in Greece, so why we have no fires then. No the culprit is not the glass it’s something else. The real culprit is STATIC ELECTRICITY. How this happens I explain below.
The top layer of the dump is exposed to the sun’s rays. With heat and radiation the material becomes bone dry. No humidity means bacteria cannot grow at all. Other organisms like insects, rats can still survive and burrow to eat the organic matter but they do not contribute significantly to the heat. However, the dry materials most of which are bad conductors of electricity (wood, paper, glass, plastic) can get electrically charged through friction with each other especially in a windy day that enhances movement in the top layer. Lack of water means lack of conductivity so static charges can grow and when they are large enough (thousands of volts) small sparks fly. This is a well known phenomenon. If you remove your pullover in a dry dark room you see a light haze as small sparks form between it and your undergarments. These sparks are sufficient to set alight something very flammable like the percolating methane gas and form small flames which then could set alight the evaporating solvents. In their turn these flames could transfer to something solid such as paper, twigs, plastic which is bone dry and hot in the top layer of the dump.
So to recap: Methane gas produced by anaerobic digestion at the bottom of the heap of rubbish percolates through the middle layers, that are heated from both ambient heat and aerobic digestion in the presence of oxygen and is mixed with solvents evaporating through the same layer because of the heat. On the surface the hot dry matter stirred by the wind produces small sparks that are able to set alight the flammable gases and if the flame is sustained, transfer it to flammable solids on the top. So we have a mechanism and it works. CASE CLOSED. Or is it really? Yes and no is the answer.
Yes, this is a highly plausible mechanism and it may explain some fires (like the one I witnessed in Samos in the early 80s) but something is missing. Sustainability and transfer to the surrounding forest is the key. The fire must be sustained or it will fizzle out when combustible material in its vicinity is exhausted. It must also transfer the flame to the forest at the edge of the dump and start burning some real dry wood. If it can do both of these things then it’s out of control and the forest will quickly start burning with devastating consequences. For the first factor, sustainability, the fire needs to have lots of material to burn locally. Lots of gasses and evaporating solvents, lots of paper, may be some discarded wood blocks from building sites or dry volatile twigs blown from the surrounding bushes. I think this was the case in the Samos fire. Wind is the key to that. A high wind blowing through may transfer burning paper, twigs, plastic and bits of charcoal to the forest. However it’s more likely to extinguish them also. So the process works by hit and miss. If the circumstances are right then the forest will burn. In most cases nothing will happen though. The people in the Samos café I talked to had seen their dump smoking many times before but it never caused a fire so they were not afraid. It was sheer bad luck that it did that day. We of course will never know exactly why and how that fateful day the fire transferred to the surrounding vegetation instead of just blowing off.
We have a mechanism then. We know that rubbish dumps cause forest fires. We know that a lot of factors need to be right for this to happen plus an element of chance (maybe someone well versed with chaos theory can analyze this better than me). We also know that smoking rubbish dumps are a warning that something bad may happen but it’s a rare event. All is well then we can do something about it. Control fires at source and no forest will burn again. Unfortunately this is only half the problem.Armageddon
Well that was the situation until last year. 10-20 fires a year on average during the meltemi season. Most were caused by rubbish dumps catching fire but I am not discounting arson and accidents completely.
Then in 2007 something different happened. In Greece alone so far there were over 700 fires. They burned not only during the meltemi season but starting with the devastating fire of Parnitha in June and continuing unabated multiplying, extending into 150 km fronts, threatening and destroying everything in their path and wreaking havoc in communities throughout the country. Immense loss of life and property. Unimaginable damage to the environment and wholesale destruction. A scene from Dante’s hell. Similar things happened all over Southern Europe. Why?
If we believe the model just described 10-20 maybe 50 fires should be all we should see. True the temperatures were very high (45 degrees) but this has happened before with only slight difference in the number of fires. Is there another force at play. Are the Greeks right to suspect fascist elements, hood-wearing anarchists, foreign agents and elements of the παρακρατος hell-bent on destroying civilization in Greece and the rest of Southern Europe. Who are these people, or beasts. The panic in the community has spread and everyone expects to see them crucified. Arrests were made. Most people arrested were released for luck of evidence. Some were charged. In most cases I think these people were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Eventually they will all be released unless someone fabricates enough evidence to put them behind bars because of course they had nothing to do with the fires. Another and very sinister factor is at play here and you are at this very moment carrying it in your pocket. LITHIUM BATTERIESA bit about Lithium batteries and their properties
I suggest you read the following article about lithium batteries as it is very instructive www.rcgroups.com
Lithium batteries have revolutionized the mobile phone industry and the laptop market. They carry more charge than their close relative the Ni-MH battery and way more than the Ni-Cd battery and are cheaper more reliable and have fewer memory problems. Unfortunately they can also explode. Lithium is a very reactive alkali metal with an electrochemical potential of 3.7 Volts as opposed to Zinc-Carbon of 1.5 Volts. Lithium will burn readily in the air and will also burn in contact with water releasing hydrogen which also burns. If you abuse a lithium battery by overcharging it or heating it above 70-100 degrees it may explode with a fireball looking like a mini napalm bomb explosion. See below a photo from a lithium battery explosion
(with thanks to www.rcgroups.com
I believe lithium has more explosive power than an equivalent weight of dynamite. However, lithium does not produce a shock wave only heat and a fireball when exploding or burning. You don’t want to be anywhere near if it does, though. The full force of a lithium laptop battery exploding in some cases can burn, maim or even kill someone standing nearby. Accidents have happened and they are well documented in the Internet. To prevent accidents complex electronic circuitry is included in mobile phones, laptops and other equipment carrying lithium batteries to prevent overcharge. These occasionally fail and people have been injured. Don’t panic it won’t happen to you.
Now may I ask all of you to take your mobile phone remove the back cover and look at the battery. Mine reads “Rechargeable Lithium battery. Use specified Nokia © charger only. MUST BE DISPOSED OF PROPERLY. MAY EXPLODE IF DAMAGED OR DISPOSED OFF IN FIRE. DO NOT SHORT CIRCUIT” There is also a little sign with a wheelie bin crossed. Poor Nokia has said it all. How many of you have read this before. In addition my laptop lithium battery says: MAY EXPLODE IF HEATED ABOVE 100 DEGREES C.
Now some questions. How often you change your mobile phone? What do you do with the old one? Does your 16 year old son/daughter who habitually get a new mobile phone every 6 months dispose their old ones properly or do they drop it in the rubbish? Because if you don’t dispose of them at a recycle point and you live in Southern Europe your lovely child or you may have just BURNED A FORESTShock and awe
How could that happen? Simple. The lithium battery is the missing link in the cycle of fire. Where before only an element of chance resulted in the fire spreading from the dump to the forest, now it becomes a certainty. The discarded mobile phone or laptop battery may be anywhere in the top or middle layers of our model dump. If it lies in the middle layer it is heated to 60-70 degrees and the plastic melts. The lithium exposed to air or moisture immediately catches fire. Alternatively, in the top layer next to the ignition source it burns slowly until again there is an explosion or fireball. It’s no ordinary fire this. It will burn at over 1000 degrees and will quickly heat and spread to the rest of the flammable material and then to the forest. The wind will carry the flames through without a chance of blowing them off. CASE CLOSED
Ah and there is another thing. Multiple fire ignition points. This has been observed and used as evidence that there is foul play. But it is simple transfer of flame through gases, i.e. methane, given off not only by the dump itself but also the forest and putrefying matter at the bottom of organic leaf litter heaps that are anaerobically digested by bacteria. The flame can reach huge distances due to the shock wave explosive combustion of methane. The oil industry knows this. Gas fires from blow outs can travel 3-4 miles in minutes through the air to burn adjacent wells. It’s all in the literature, read it.
Therefore we have found the combination of factors that cause the forest fires. Unregulated dumping grounds situated next to forests and lithium battery fireball explosions, as the fire sustaining medium. A really lethal and frightening combination.Evidence
If you are a fire investigating officer reading this, may I suggest you look for evidence in the form of traces of lithium hydroxide in the vicinity of the fire starting point, provided you have located it and it’s near a dumping ground. You must carry your sampling as soon as possible after the fire because lithium hydroxide will disperse quickly and being water soluble and hygroscopic will not be detectable. So there is no guarantee you will always find it unless your analytical method can detect concentrations lower than one part per billion.How to stop this
The Greek authorities and the EU must pass emergency legislation making recycling of old lithium batteries from any source mandatory. People should put their old mobiles, laptops and other equipment containing lithium batteries in special bins under threat of imprisonment. At the same time a media campaign must explain the risks to win the public over. Mobile phone shops must also institute an old mobile return policy. Some of these measures are already happening in some countries e.g. UK. Recycling lithium can be profitable too, it’s a valuable element to throw away. I can go on and on how to do this but it’s not necessary as it is fairly obvious.
However, this will not mitigate the danger of fires as millions of mobile phones are already in the dumping sites waiting to explode. So a nationwide campaign involving local people must be instituted to quickly clear all dumping sites, however small, that are sited next to forests or farmland. Those in valleys and ravines must be cleared first. The material needs to be transported into cleared land away from trees at distances of minimum 150m away. In the interim all dumping sites must be monitored for signs of smoking or ignition especially during hot windy days. CCTV and smoke detectors can be used to cut costs and automatic sprinklers fitted that could catch a fire in a dump before it spreads. Eventually all dumping must be organized under proper supervised norms but it will take years. In the meantime all the forests may burn not only in Greece but the whole of Southern Europe. SO ACT NOW BEFORE IT’S TOO LATEAnd finally
I urge all people in the world to take heed and recycle their mobiles, laptops etc properly and regulate their dumping grounds placing them away from forest land. Do not follow the Greek example. In particularly those living in rainforest areas like Brazil, Central Africa, India, Central America, Indonesia. Guys if your forests burn we are all doomed.Permissions
Permission is given to quote parts or the whole of this text provided the language and meaning are not altered in any way or quoted out of context. Also, always give credit to the source website. You may link to it in your website or mirror it but mention where the original lies. The author accepts no responsibility whatsoever for any damage however minor or major resulting from reading or carrying out anything that has been suggested here. Views expressed here should also be taken at one’s own risk and there is no guarantee that they are true so the author will not accept any responsibility if they are proved not to be true.
Thank you for reading this. Talk to your friends about it. If you are Greek or Southern European, talk to someone in power like your MP or your town council.
ZDROJ: Mr. L.Coucoulas
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