Tears and anger as Greek island residents face wildfire aftermath

by Reuters
Friday, 13 August 2021 15:47 GMT

A firefighter tries to extinguish a wildfire burning in the village of Pefki, on the island of Evia, Greece, August 8, 2021. REUTERS/Nikolas Economou

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Residents of the Greek seaside village of Rovies mourn a lost paradise scorched by wildfires that burned for nine days

By Lefteris Papadimas

ROVIES, Evia, Greece, Aug 13 (Reuters) - Residents of the Greek seaside village of Rovies mourn a lost paradise of pristine pine forests and family homes, scorched by wildfires that burned for nine days.

But they are also angry as they start to see how little was salvaged.

The village at the foothills of a mountain, on the island of Evia northeast of Athens, had long been a popular retreat for Greek and foreign tourists, with locals also living off honey, resin and olive oil farming.

Wildfires have turned the forest and beehives into ashes and burned down about a dozen houses in Rovies, those on the outskirts, and dozens more across the island.

One of these homes belonged to 72-year old Costas Constantinidis, a former pastry cook.

"There was a paradise here and now... it's hell," Constantinidis said, in tears as he stood in front of his house, much of which was destroyed by flames.

"My wife and I worked hard for many years to build this so we could enjoy it in our old age, and now, we must start again from the beginning."

In Rovies, as in other villages across the island, residents said the government failed to protect their homes and the forest.

"The truth is that they forgot us," 87-year-old Sotiria Kalaboka said. "From the beginning, the airplanes did not come to drop (water), to act."

Kotzias Thrasyvoulos, a beach cafe owner in Pefki, on the other side of the island, said firefighters were a big help but that, without air units at first, they could not tackle the fire.

"If they had brought the helicopters and the planes immediately and had stayed for six or seven hours straight, the fire would have been put out from the beginning on the first day," he said.

OUR DREAMS BURNED

A fire brigade official said he understood people who lost their homes were upset, but said firefighters had done all they could.

"All firefighters, all fire engines were in the fronts from the beginning," the offical said.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has publicly apologised for delays in the firefighting effort and announced 500-million-euro ($587 million) relief package, while defending his government's action.

"I want to tell them that I completely understand what they feel, both the pain and the disappointment, and the desperation," he told a news conference on Thursday. "I want to tell them they will not be unassisted, the state will be close to them."

That appeared to offer little comfort to residents of Evia.

"What can they give me? A loan to pay off? How can I pay it off? With what?," said 53-year old Anastasia.

She and her husband had built a house in Revios and were making a small income from beehives and olive trees. All of that was now ashes.

"Everything burned. Our dreams burned, our memories burned, everything, everything. Not even one photograph from my dad's home is left."

Zoi Charasti, 55, owned a pastry shop in Rovies and had lived above the shop for the past 38 years. The wildfire burned a big part of her shop after police told her to evacuate.

She was overwhelmed by sadness and anger when she returned to see what remained of her shop - burned mixers and refigerators.

"We don't know what to expect now, and we had so much equipment that it is really difficult for us to buy it all again from the beginning, it requires a lot of money that we will not receive," she said. (Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas, Writing by George Georgiopoulos and Ingrid Melander, Editing by Angus MacSwan)