Measures announced for scorched palm forest
Athens Plus, 10 September 2010

Local authorities on the island of Crete announced earlier this week that the forest overlooking Preveli Beach on the southern coast of the island, which was razed by a wildfire on August 22, has been designated for reforestation.

The area - known as Foinikodasos due to the large number of palm trees that once flanked the Kourtaliotis River which reaches the sea at Preveli Beach - was the second-largest palm forest on Crete, covering an area of 3 hectares.

Measures announced by the Prefecture of Crete’s general secretary, Thanasis Karountzos, also include a complete ban on grazing and all forms of camping in the area.

The Environment Ministry, meanwhile, has pledged funds for the rehabilitation effort and will be supervising the project which is to begin within the next few months, adding in an announcement on its website that it expects the reforestation to be smooth as the species of palm, Phoenix theophrasti (Cretan date palm), is robust and can easily be reproduced using cuttings.

The fire that destroyed the palm forest was one of three blazes that began within a few hours of each other in southern Rethymno overnight on August 21.

Stoked by gale-force winds and temperatures in the high 30s, firefighters were unable to bring the blaze under control before it almost completely demolished the forest. However, fire services were able to contain the blaze before it reached the historical Preveli Monastery further up the river gorge.

Local authorities, who attribute the blazes to arson, will also be examining why a 1.4-million-euro fire prevention system which was approved in 2007 under a European Union program had not been put into operation.

In a statement following an inspection of the damaged site, environmental group WWF Hellas said that uncontrolled tourism development also played a crucial role in the fire.

A scientific adviser for WWF Hellas, Kaloust Paragamian, told Skai that there were over 1,000 sunbeds, 50 to 60 pedal boats and numerous umbrellas on the beach that became fodder for the fire.

Paragamian also pointed to the existence of pine trees as possible culprits.

"Let's go back 10 or 15 years when an area nearby [the palm forest] was planted with pines even though they had never existed there before. The pines and their pine cones 'bombarded' the palm forest; the fire would not have reached the palms had it not been for the pines," he said.