By Clem Richardson, Monday, November 5, 2007, DAILY NEWS
The summer wildfires swept across the already sun-scorched land, consuming everything in the way and leaving ashes in their wake. The devastation was incredible – at least 67 people killed, 1,100 homes and 427,000 acres of forest and farmland destroyed. This wasn’t sunny Southern California last month, but Greece in August, when some 170 wildfires, some of them arson blazes, rampaged through Mount Taygetos and other portions of Peloponnese in Southern Greece.
Kyriakos (Charlie) Kourakos, owner of Mezzo Mezzo restaurant on Ditmars Blvd. in Astoria, Queens, spent long hours watching television reports as the flames ravaged Mount Taygetos, near Sparta, in the province where he grew up.”I used to vacation there when I was growing up, and I still take my family there,” said Kourakos. “It is such beautiful country, full of birch and pine trees. So beautiful.”Peter Alexeas, president of Progressive Designs, a Hempstead, L.I., firm that designs and builds diners, was vacationing in the region when the flames hit. He joined the fire brigade as locals tried to help overwhelmed firefighters in the battle.”There were only two fire trucks,” Alexeas said.
“I think we did more than the firemen did. I burned my hand, the fire was so close.” Now the two have joined with consultant Nancy Biska and the World Council of Hellenes Abroad in a national effort to replant Mount Taygetos and other parts of their homeland. The World Council is looking to raise more than $500,000 for the “Plant Your Roots In Greece” tree-replanting program. Biska said all the money raised will go directly toward the replanting effort. “Every dime that is donated will go into replacing lost trees,” she said. The Greek government has pledged to rebuild the destroyed homes.
Some 170 blazes, many of them suspected arson fires, raged across southern Greece from the third week of August through the second week of September. According to an Associated Press report, the conflagration hit as the country was suffering through a summer heat wave during which daytime temperatures hit 116. The report said government officials had to use satellite images to estimate the amount of damaged land, as the country has no official land registry. Conservationists are also anxious to replant the forest acreage before developers can move in on the newly cleared land, according to the report.
“We love that entire area and we want to preserve it,” Kourakos said. Kourakos has hosted several fund-raisers for the replanting effort on Mezzo Mezzo’s second floor and plans others in coming weeks. Biska said more than $200,000 has been raised so far. They’re appealing to the more than 81,000 city residents – according to the 2000 census – of Greek ancestry to help the replanting effort. Checks can be made out to Plant Your Roots in Greece, Chicago Community Bank Account 459-0070-59, 234 S. Wabash Ave., Fl2, Chicago, Ill. 60604-2365.