Thassos Forest Fires

September 10 - 14, 2016

In the early morning hours of September 10, a powerful storm passed above Thassos. Rather than bringing much needed rain after 3 months of constant sunshine, it brought a very rare phenomenon: dry thunderstorms (absolutely no rain). Dozens of lightning strikes hit the island's mountains and ignited 4 forest fires. Fed by very strong winds, the fires quickly spread and grew to something not seen since the fires of the late 1980s.

The scale and speed of the fires demanded such a large emergency response that our local emergency services were overwhelmed. While authorities mobilized manpower and machinery from across the northern regions of Greece to fight the blaze, brave Thassians immediately took matters into their own hands and battled the blazes to protect their homes, businesses, and their beautiful island.

As the smoke clears, we're already beginning to learn of courageous and heroic efforts made by residents who battled the fires. For instance, residents of a village spent countless hours in the neighboring forests clearing whatever ground cover they could to protect their village. At one point, they spent time trapped by flames blocking their exit routes. Others spent harrowing hours fighting back flames with garden hoses trying to save their hotel and restaurant. Tourists staying at the hotel were told to leave quickly, "Don't worry about paying, just go!" (the tourists wanted to settle the bill before leaving). But they stayed and helped the family fight the approaching flames. They won. The family hotel and restaurant was saved and nobody was hurt. Amazingly, we've heard of tourists around the island wanting to help wherever they could (for which we thank whole-heartedly!).

Hundreds of fire-fighters, military personnel, and other emergency workers were mobilized from across Greece to help battle the fires. Firetrucks drove into the mountains while people dragged hoses into the forests. Chinooks, helicopters, and water planes also contributed by dropping water from the air over inaccessible areas on the mountainsides. Air support worked tirelessly from daybreak until sundown. Every sunset brought anxiety because water drops from the air had to cease during the night. Those on the ground keeping the fires in check had long, sleepless nights.

The scale of the emergency prompted a visit from Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Before departing he pledged to provide emergency funding to help Thassos recover1. Fortunately, not all of our forests were destroyed. The strong winds pushed fires through some areas so quickly that many places only had the underbrush burned, leaving the ground and trees blackened but not destroyed. Fires skipped around leaving patches of forests untouched. The sections of forests lost to the fires will eventually grow back, bigger and greener than ever before.

Despite the fires, tourists continued flocking to the island's beaches and enjoyed their long-awaited holidays, according to the Deputy Head of Tourism for the Region of Eastern Macedonia-Thrace Michalis Amoiridis, the fires have not impacted the tourism industry. Beaches and tavernas maintained high occupancy numbers. Visitors to Thassos who witnessed the smokey mountains and fire fighting efforts felt safe the entire time2.

The coming days, weeks, and months will be difficult as we all adjust to what was lost to the fires. Moments like these help us appreciate nature and they remind us how blessed we are to have such an island with beautiful forests. The cycle of life will continue, and with patience, we’ll be able to witness the rebirth of the forests that fell victim to the flames. We are sad to see the aftermath but at the same time we know it will recover with time and care.

Please remember our beautiful island when you think about your 2017 holidays! The images and videos you see being posted on Facebook and various news websites show Thassos in such a horrible light. You only see the fires and destruction as if the entire island burned to the ground. Don't forget that the media makes money by providing the most "exciting" news and they will show you the most dramatic images. It's not going to help their bottom line by showing all of the areas of Thassos that were not impacted.

Thassos is still a beautiful and safe destination!

Our greatest thanks go to the fire-fighters, military personnel, emergency services, and tourists who stood by the Thassians' side during this challenging time to help preserve our island's beautiful green forests. Thank you!


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