Greek Wildfire Update - On Location in Greece
Reporting in from Greece this week are IFAW's Juliet Neal-Boyd and Dick Green, who are helping distribute food and relief aid to people and animals in those regions hardest hit by these terrible fires. Juliet filed this report yesterday...
After seeing the news for the past week on the wildfires in Greece, it was wonderful to actually jump a plane and respond with IFAW. Nothing can truly prepare you for a fire of this magnitude and the destruction and despair it leaves in its path.
The day began at 7am when we met up with 3 people from local animal rescue groups on a relief mission on the outskirts of Athens. We were very lucky to have been invited by a group called SPAZ which graciously included us in their van, and was led by a wonderful man named Mario, who works for the Right to Life animal charity. The primary goal was visiting the areas hit by the fires and concentrating on feeding and treating any burned/injured animals.
We drove to two locations to pick up 1500 pounds of wet and dry donated dog and cat food. With all of us in such a tight van – it was quite a feat to unpack the containers and stuff cans and bags in every possible crevice or the van which then rode 5 inches off of the ground delivering sparks every time we went over a bump.
We then drove South to the worst hit area of Greece – the Peleponese region in the South. We immediately found dogs and cats in need of food and water, and were speechless at the massive destruction. As we drove, we watched helicopters fly overhead carrying barrels of water. In some of the areas, the ground was still smoldering, and everywhere you drove the entire day, your eyes and nostrils stung.
Most of the villages we visited were ghost towns – surrounding lands burnt to the ground, and only a few empty houses standing. We saw a group of about 20 sheep in one village huddled together surrounded by a complete circle of burned grass. We found one old couple left in the village who came out to speak with us. The older woman began to cry as her husband said that their sheep wouldn’t move because they were too scared from the fires, and would not step on blackened land. They were beginning to starve, and he estimated that they would all perish shortly. The older woman stepped into my arms and began to sob into my chest. I have to say that as much as you try to keep it together, it is next to impossible not to weep with someone who is in such distress.
We carried on and through ghost town after ghost town. The group would come across strays and bring out food to feed them. Approximately 50 animals were fed during the day. Mountains as far as the eye could see were burnt to the ground. We would also find tractors burnt on the spot, and we walked on ash fields that looked look like a blackened surface of the moon. We came across one dog that hovered when we approached, and looked in rough shape. We found this in other dogs as well – they seemed to cower or spook easily as I’m sure they had been through a lot in the past few days.
By afternoon, we reached one of the hardest hit regions called Leondari. 80% of the community and herds burned – 18 villages and 234 homes.
The small town was very quiet even though we met many army members who came into to help with distribution of supplies and provided a presence to show that the government was injvolved. There was a deep sadness in the eyes of the people we met. We met with the Mayor there for an hour. They have plenty of donated food and clothing, but their primary need is long term sustainability of their agricultural community as the significant amount of the animals perished in the fire (mainly sheep and goats).
Feed had just come in for the first time that day by a group of villages who pooled their resources to bring in 25 tons. We saw long lines of people lining up their pick-ups to receive food for their animals. On our way out of town, we stopped by a completely burnt out car where a family of five whose youngest was 2 years old had just been burned alive in their car several days earlier. Flowers lay in both the front and back seats. The magnitude of the tragedy of these fires is truly humbling…
We pressed on and there was more of the same – empty villages, charred grapes on vines, and the occasional burnt sheep skull surrounded by ashes. Many of the fires were out, but they still remain further South. The constant helicopters and occasional plane were a constant reminder that fires were still ongoing. We stopped by and delivered food to one woman with 30 cats and several dogs – the frolicking kittens were a nice break in the day to clear our minds of what we had witnessed.
We then moved onto the second heaviest hit region in Peleponese – Megaloupoli. We met with the mayor or this town for an hour and a half. 50% of this region burned, and 1000 animals (mostly livestock) were recorded as having perished in the fires. Once again their primary need is long term sustainability with the additional challenges of the recent drought, and the projected 6 month waiting period it takes for new grass/crops to grow for feed. Food, food and more food was reiterated even though a large delivery was arriving for the first time the next day. It disappears in no time, and since most of the animals and herds are free range – there is little land left for food. Many of the farmers also struggle financially – so to begin paying for feed while also losing their crops is devastating. We finished out meeting well into the night, and stumbled into our beds covered in soot and dirt to get ready for the next day.
Next Day – report mid-day
We took off early this morning to four villages the town mayor had indicated had a high number of animal deaths. He mentioned that many wild boar had been burned, but not killed because the fires in some areas had traveled higher in the trees. Many of these injured animals will perish in the next few days.
Today, we saw lot of smoke from the fires just next door with active helicopters dumping water. We came across one older gentleman in the town of Chrani who sat quietly on his porch and spoke of the fires. Nearly everything was gone. His cat sat on the scorched earth next to him as he talked about his loss and mentioned others in need down the road. The group gave him food for his dogs and cat (humanitarian supplies had already been distributed), and carried on.
We next met a a farming couple who spoke of the need for food for their sheep herd of 250. “We need food” they said – we now have to pay because they can’t roam and we don’t have the money. The food we got today for the first time won’t last us more than a day and a half!” They also mentioned that wild dog packs were beginning to form from nearly abandoned villages and were beginning to come into other villages and kill sheep. They had lost one last night.
We then moved on towards the active fires. We came across an elderly Greek gentleman who had just lost all 18 of his sheep, and saved his goats with a fire hose. One sheep was left next to his house, badly burned around the ears and mouth. He had used a blanket to try to stamp out the fire on his sheep – only this one made it. We saw a burnt one on the ground in the back of his house. The group administered antibiotics B complex through injection. As we pulled away, the older, soot stained gentleman waved both hands in the air and said “I will fight.” Pressing on now...