for National Geographic News
It will take years for Greece to recover from this summer's record wildfire season—and it may not happen at all if officials don't take steps to protect burnt lands during the renewal process—warns the Greek chapter of the international conservation nonprofit WWF.
The group recently released an assessment detailing how years of poor forest management combined with high temperatures and dry weather and created this year's unprecedented tinderbox situation, which killed at least 67 people.
More than 670,000 acres (270,000 hectares) of farmland, homes, and protected forests were charred over the summer, the European Forest Fire Information System reports.
That's twice the amount of land that was scorched in the previous record year, 2000. (See a picture of the wildfires threatening the site of the ancient Olympics.)
"The amount of land burned is about 5 percent of the whole country," said Constantinos Liarikos, conservation manager with the WWF in Athens. "It was huge." (See a map of Greece's forests.)
WWF says that the Greek government, which has a reputation for lax protection practices, must follow through on promises to replant devastated areas and keep lands free of development and livestock—or risk losing the forests forever.
Decades of Recovery
Some swaths of Greek forest, like parts of the U.S. West, are fire-dependent and will regenerate quickly, Liarikos said.
Evergreen strawberry trees, along with mastic and other common shrubs, resprout following fire. These lowland plants may start regeneration within two to three years.
And short-statured Aleppo pines release their seeds when they are exposed to fire.
But much of the damaged land will need far longer to recover.
One unusual feature of the fires this year, Liarikos said, is that they reached unusually high elevations—up to 4,900 feet (1,500 meters).
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