14 January 2008
Greek scouts plant trees in Penteli suburb (Jan 2008, AFP)Athens, Greece:
Four months after a fire devastated one of the last forests on the outskirts of Athens, Greek volunteers on Sunday planted around 2,000 pine saplings in an initiative backed by the US and British embassies, the agriculture ministry said.
"We had an impressively large turnout, so much so that there were not enough trees to go around," an agriculture ministry source told AFP.
Around 600 volunteers including the deputy US and British ambassadors planted the trees at two locations in Penteli, some 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Athens where 950 hectares (2,300 acres) of forest were lost in August.
"It's a start, it's touching to see how many volunteers came here today," Cypriot billionaire and easyGroup founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou told state TV.
The Penteli fire, believed to have been arson, was part of a broader swathe of August infernos that killed 67 people and ravaged nearly 200,000 hectares (494,000 acres) of land around the country, much of it forested.
The previous month, five firemen had also died fighting on fronts that sprang up on a nearly daily basis.
Most Greeks believe that the fires were started by illegal developers as new homes and villas have for decades sprung up on lost forest land.
Such fears have led officials to concentrate on replanting Penteli despite the established wisdom that fire-struck areas must be allowed two years of natural healing, the ministry source said.
The Sunday initiative was co-hosted by the leading organisation of Americans of Greek descent, the US chapter of World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE).