How a small group of volunteers helped fight forest fires in Greece

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A two-line call for help on Facebook and the creation of a fire zone to save the municipality of East Mani from the fire that was already burning in western Mani in early August was enough to save the area and to prevent the fire from spreading, thanks to a group of volunteers.

GAIA is an association of volunteers, dedicated to the preservation of nature and local culture. The official description of this local organization might not, in translation, fully reflect the degree of effort and level of commitment of its members to the local community. GAIA has a history of working on environmental issues.

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The group is over an hour from the nearest town or fire station, and group founder Kostas Xideas says the summer season is anything but relaxing for its members.

“We make sure to take advantage of the winter, unfortunately we cannot do the same in the summer as we are a country in the south and south of Greece. So this region has a dry climate and very high temperatures, this which causes many forest fires, ”he added. Xideas said.

The group of volunteers is made up of 20 people led by Kostas and his wife. They receive training from foreign medical personnel and retired firefighters who visit the area.

Six GAIA drivers work in shifts, which allows them to stay on constant alert. They have nine vehicles including an ambulance, a boat and a fire engine.

“The time we need to resolve a problem here is over an hour. Many of them need an immediate response, the first five minutes are the most important – so we’re the first to step in, until a rescue team or a fire engine comes in. We have succeeded with our own work and our own equipment, ”says Georgia Spanou, secretary of GAIA.

In 2007, thanks to donations from people at home and abroad, funds were raised for GAIA to procure two fire trucks. The first was driven by German members and later in the same year a team of Austrian firefighters rolled over the second. These men stayed for a week to give training on the use of the donated equipment.

“From state or government organizations, we haven’t received a single euro since we created this group. And everything you see here is done thanks to locals and local businesses, but also donations from friends abroad, ”says Xideas.

Most of the volunteers come from different backgrounds and professions, but the call to protect their homeland has united them. The threat of forest fires in the region is now starting to fade, with most of them now under control. But the group will not have time to rest as the flood season is fast approaching and its members need to be prepared.

Cover picture: Firefighters attempt to put out the fires as a forest fire continues to rage near the village of Afidnes, north of Athens, Greece, August 6, 2021. Reuters / Alexandros Avramidis / File Photo


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