‘It’s all gone’: Greek farmers despair as fires decimate crops

Resin farmers say they feel helpless as entire villages dependent on the industry suffer from the effects of wildfires.

People from Ellinika village on Evia island in Greece have been in the forest for days fighting fires that started a week ago [Laila Sieber/Al Jazeera]

Evia, Greece – As Greece comes to terms with the devastation of fires that have burned tens of thousands of acres of land and destroyed entire villages, resin farmers on the island of Evia, one of the worst affected regions, are beginning to count the cost to their livelihoods.

When Al Jazeera met some of the farmers this week near the village of Ellinika in northern Evia, they were sleeping in shifts at the foot of the forest, as they had been doing for days to desperately protect the few remaining trees.

“I have 5,000 trees and they are all burned, I don’t know what I’m going to do next,” said Kostas, 33.

Born and raised in one of the island’s northern villages, he said all the other resin farmers now faced the same grim reality.

“Maybe I will have to leave the island to go to Athens, I don’t know,” he said as he watched smoke emerging from the forest. “It’s all gone.”

The fires have come in the middle of the resin harvesting season, known as tapping, for resin.

The small plastic pouches strapped to the bark to collect resin represent a significant amount of the farmers’ income source.

Residents in the town of Ellinika expressed frustration at the government which they say has not deployed additional help to put out the fires [Laila Sieber/Al Jazeera]

Resin has a variety of uses, including in plastics or even Retsina wine but now the Aleppo pine trees it once came from are smoking embers.

One of the farmers, Dimitris Platias, picked up a pouch from the debris in the forest and shook his head in disbelief.

It has been a game of cat and mouse for the resin farmers, running towards the fires with hoses and backpacks full of water and then retreating when the flames become too much.

A sense of desperation overwhelmed them as they watched their trees disintegrate into smouldering ash.

Stavros, 31, also from a local village, was bleary-eyed as he pointed to the sacks of resin in the trees.

“We’ve been doing this for a week,” he said, breathlessly, having just run back from the fires, which were once again engulfing the pine trees.

A video on his phone shows part of the forest completely ablaze in recent days.

Evangelos Georgantzis, who heads the Resin Growers’ Association in Evia, told local media that about 800 families who were entirely dependent on the resin-growing industry in northern Evia have been affected.

Ilias Nikolakarakos, a volunteer, puts out fires in resin forest [Laila Sieber/Al Jazeera]

“Truly what we have experienced in Evia is tragic,” he said, calling on state support for those who had lost their livelihoods as well as measures to repair the pine forest for future generations of farmers.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has promised a relief package of 500 million euros ($587m) and said the affected areas will be reforested, but a sense of anger is rising.

One resident who requested anonymity said the state had done nothing to help.

The group putting out the fires, “these guys are the real heroes,” he said.

Ilias Nikolarakos, who travelled more than 230 miles (370km) from the Mani region to help, said everyone fighting the fires was frustrated.

“We had no help,” he said, a scarf wrapped around his face as he walked through the smoke. “The state doesn’t care about the trees and many people live from this forest and the resin.”

One local village has a fire truck that can carry 1.5 tonnes of water, but with all the small fires constantly reigniting, it has not been enough, the farmers say.

A village priest from Ellinika arrived driving a tractor to see if he could help with the effort, but more smoke emerged from the horizon.

“This part of the forest is doomed,” said Babis, another resin farmer, putting his head in his hands as he urged the others to try and fight small fires breaking out on different fronts.

“I really don’t know what I’m going to do now,” said Kostas again, as he looked at the smoke across thousands of burning pines.

But determination persisted as the resin farmers once again gathered to go to a new fire that started nearby.

Source: Al Jazeera