From: Reuters
Published May 20, 2008 02:51 PM

Greece not ready for forest fire season

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece has failed to ensure it is ready for the forest fire season, a year after devastating wild fires killed 65 people, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Greece said on Tuesday.

Last summer's fires, the worst in decades, also scorched thousands of hectares of forest and farmland, destroyed villages and threatened archaeological sites.

"Despite the (government's) efforts there are still problems that, if not dealt with, will lead to the same problems as last year, or worse," Dimitris Karavellas, head of the Greek branch of the WWF, told a news conference.

"I'm afraid we will have fires similar to last year's ... We must face the fact that our fire protection system is not efficient," Karavellas said.

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A dry winter followed by summer temperatures well above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) fanned the flames last year and meteorologists predict temperatures could hit 46 Celsius this summer.

The WWF called for the creation of a specialist unit within the fire brigade to tackle forest fires, more staff, improved training for volunteers, better coordination among government agencies and more funds for fire prevention.

Greek officials have acknowledged that time is running out and measures will not be in place by the summer.

"It is obvious, as we enter the forest fire season, that most of these measures won't be enforced this summer," conservative MP Kyriakos Mitsotakis, head of parliament's environment committee, told reporters.

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou, editing by Jon Boyle)

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