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E + 28 : Smoke over Athens

Sun rising over the Gulf of Corinth - the Haze and Smoke made the Sun a Red Fireball

Time to say goodbye today to the crew and the boat that brought us the 1'200 miles from Malta to Corinth. Some of us got up early for one last time on the kayak - other preferred to sleep until last minute. We had to leave at 9 am. We would cover the last 84 kilometres of our 2021 journey by van. It would have been spectacular to sail into the harbour of Piraeus. But the land slide into the Canal of Corinth made this all but impossible. The Greek Government was in no hurry though to repair the canal. We could not detect any work preparation when we crossed it.

The Beauty of an idle Canal - no Signs of Preparation

for repairs anywhere :-(

Our day started with a rather unusual sun rise. Instead of the bright yellow disc we saw a fire red sun rising over the horizon. The sun kept this unusual colour for almost 90 minutes. The smoke from the forest fires north of Athens and Euboea was blown south, an acrid smell hanged in the air and the radio announced that the motorway from Athens to Thessaloniki would be closed. The strong wind we experienced yesterday had spread the fire over a wide region. Luckily, it slowed down overnight. From yesterday's peak of 35 knots it dropped to a more tolerable 10 knots.

This Photo was taken in 2007 from the Space Station - 2021 must look similar

Wildfires are not a new phenomenon in Greece. There always were forest fires in its entire history. Given Greece's semi-arid nature, a lightning stroke during a thunderstorm is sufficient to ignite the dry grass and dead underwood. But there were mitigating factors in the past which we are not there any longer.

  1. Until 50 years ago, people used the dry fall wood as fuel in their homes. There were never any dead branches on the floor - they were valuable and collected. Today there is dead wood everywhere. Also, everybody gathered pine cones which are ideal for lighting a fire. Nobody does this anymore. When pine cones burn, they act like little fire bombs and carry the fire to new places

  2. Farmers always used the forest as grazing ground for their animals. I know what my sheep do to the forest in Chantrou. They keep it in check. Sheep and goats love young tree sprouts. They are delicious. Trees in grazed forests are thus much further apart than today, which makes it more difficult for fire to spread

  3. Greece's forests are monocultures and made mostly from pine trees. Whilst pine trees grow fast and stop soil erosion with their roots, they also burn like torches when on fire. Having been surrounded by a forest fire in Chantrou in 2012, I vividly remember how Mediterranean pine trees "explode". A diversified forest with oak, olive, almond, fruit and poplar trees is far more fire resistant than today's forest.

Some people in Greek's Ministry for Agriculture have recognised the danger and started to plant more diversified forests a few years ago. One of the reasons why this year's fire did not reach the site of the ancient Olympic Games is the diversified forest that surrounds it. After the devastating fires of 2007, an ancient forest was replanted in Olympia and stood this year its "test of fire". The fire could not cross the barrier built by the diversified, ancient forest.

Took this Photo from a Greek News Paper today

For the time being Greece has to cope with the monoculture of its pine forests though. On our way into Athens we saw five water bombers in the sky - endlessly tanking water and dropping it on the spreading fires. Luckily, they job was easier than during the previous days. Saw these aircraft in Chantrou in 2012 when they attacked the fire around us. It is impressive how close the pilots dive to the ground. Given that hot air is less dense than cold air, the pilots must take into account that the lift over a fire zone drops significantly and could lead to a crash if they do not anticipate it. I admire their courage and professionalism..

Smoke from the Forest Fires over the northern part of Athens

Despite the fires and the grisly news of entire villages burning on the island of Euboea, life in Athens continued almost as normal. There were far fewer tourists than before Covid but we could see lots of French and American tourist. There was even a cruise boat in the harbour of Piraeus.

Athens' old town close to the Agora was rathr busy

It was time though to say good-bye to most of the sailors. Many had booked flights home for today. A few stayed a day or two longer to enjoy Athens and to relate what they had seen on the big tour through Magna Graecia.

The Horologion, Athens' Pentelic Marble Clock Tower

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