Sunday, July 22, 2007

Fire in Skiathos 12 July 2007

The 12th of July, started out as a normal day. We were pottering around our nice little studio apartment in Aghia Paraskevi (the name of that section of the island) getting ready for a nice day at the pool side. It was too windy to go out on the boat to dive.

George was finishing a book that he was engrossed in. I thought I smelled smoke and had heard a few airplanes go over and went out to have a look.

You can hear by that first clip that the wind was pretty strong that day. The worst sort of thing to have during a fire is high wind. It seems that this fire had started up near the municipal land fill near the highest point on the island.

The smoke got denser and looked to be getting closer. We weren't overly concerned at this point as the wind was blowing the fire in the opposite direction.But then the sun got blocked by the increasing smoke, You can see that the water scooping Canadian aircraft were flying a lot closer as the minutes ticked by. The wind had changed direction slightly and oops we were now a bit more concerned.

It was just after that last video clip was shot that we were told to evacuate the area. George, who had started darting around in a bit of a flap had already packed his things. All our heavy diving equipment was over on the dive boat, thank God we didn't have to worry about that gear. We're all pretty light packers and it took us two minutes to get everything stuffed into our cases and get to the meeting point.

I got to the meeting point in the parking lot first. The holiday representative from Olympic Holidays was there telling everybody to go up the road where there were coaches waiting to take us into town. I turned around and waited for Henry and George to catch up to me. When they had caught up, we started to go towards the buses. We made about three steps when a Greek police man, who was directing traffic pointed at us and said, "BEACH!" and then made motions for us to hurry our backsides the 500 meters down to the beach. He had a gun strapped to his waist. We weren't going to argue.

Here we are down at the beach. You can see from this photo of George that the smoke here was pretty bad. We smelled of smoke for the rest of the day. Here are our bags by a sun lounger on the beach. The big grey bag is our snorkeling gear that wasn't on the boat that day.Looking back to where we had come from was pretty frightening. The fire was following us. The wind was still very high and our bare legs were getting shot blasted with the wind and sand.

Very quickly, it had jumped the main road that we had crossed and the fire was burning the trees down the beach from us. It caused us to have to move up the beach a few hundred meters. We could feel the heat from the flames even at our distance. We could see sun loungers and beach umbrellas on that part of the beach catch fire. It was just a few meters away from the beach-side taverna at the Skiathos Princess Hotel where we had been just the day before for our lunch!

Then, the wind switched again and the fire had left our part of the island and started to make its way towards Troulos. A lot of the smoke that had kippered us on the beach dissipated, anxieties started to calm and it seemed that the wind was dying down too. That is the hillside behind our apartment complex just an hour after the fire had passed. There are still hot spots at this point, still smoke and there is ash everywhere. Flash fires like that clear out all the undergrowth. The largest trees survive these fires. That is what happened here.

When things started to calm down, we walked back towards the main road. We were met by another of our holiday reps who asked us to stay by the roadside until we could be collected and taken to a holding spot with the rest of the Olympic Holidays customers. In due time, we were collected and taken to an apartment complex closer to town where there had been no fire. It was nice not to smell smoke anymore.

We spent the rest of the day lounging by this new pool. There was a supermarket next door to this new complex and I trotted over there with George and we picked up stuff for a picnic. We sat in the shade and had sandwiches, iced tea and Cheetos.

Around 7pm that day, we got news that it was safe to go back to our apartment. The power that the fire had knocked out was already back on(!) and we could get cleaned up.

The fire burned an estimated 2,000 hectares of land on the island. Some homes were scorched by the flames but miraculously, no homes were badly damaged by the fire. Thankfully no human lives were lost either.

There were little swirls of ash behind our apartment door that night and in the cracks of the pavement outside and there was a layer of soot and ash in the bottom of the pool. The cleaners at our complex had the entire place ash-free in two days! I'm sure that when the island gets its next rain, the smell of smoke will leave.

It was high adventure for us. I've never been that close to a forest fire in my life! I never wish to repeat the experience either.

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