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Greece, officially the Hellenic Republic, is a peninsular country possessing an archipelago of approximately 2,000 islands in southeastern Europe surrounded by the Mediterranean, Ionian, and Aegean Seas.  It is well known for its contributions to history, including democracy, the Olympic Games, western philosophy and drama, and many scientific and literary accomplishments. 

Greece is topographically diverse and rich in natural beauty and cultural resources, though it boasts few natural resources of high economic value. This makes tourism important to the country’s economy.  Given the rugged terrain and dry rocky soils in Greece, only about a quarter of the land is arable; lowland areas are cultivated for olives, oranges, dates, figs, pomegranates and other products.  Resident wildlife includes the European black bear, boar, lynx, deer, fox, jackal, and numerous birds.  

Threats to the Resource Base
Greece has a relatively high population density – approximately 84 people per km2.  Pollution poses a threat to health in cities and causes significant damage to cultural and natural resources.  Many of Greece’s forests have been depleted, contributing to soil erosion and challenging restoration efforts.  Droughts and increasing temperatures threaten the landscape in Greece.  In the summer of 2007, Greece was impacted by a series of massive forest fires, which threatened life, property, and the natural resource base.

Why Does the US Forest Service Work in Greece?
The 2007 fire season in Greece was the worst on record due to a combination of high temperatures, drought conditions, and strong, dry winds.  Approximately 270,000 hectares burned in over 3,000 fires across Greece damaging numerous forests, olive groves, farms and about 4,000 homes. Approximately 84 people died in the blazes, including several firefighters, and the estimate of economic damage was $1.6 billion dollars. 

Given the difficult situation and widespread damage, the Government of Greece declared a disaster situation and subsequently received support from 20 European Union states and neighboring countries. The U.S., through the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), provided immediate funds for the procurement of emergency relief supplies and fire-fighting equipment as well as additional assistance to strengthen Greek fire management and disaster response capacities.  Overall, U.S. assistance to Greece, including both immediate and long-term activities, totals more than $1.9 million.

In September, 2007 a technical team of 6 USAID/OFDA and USFS specialists from a range of disciplines traveled to Greece to meet with fire response officials, assess the human and environmental impact of the recent wildfires, and provide recommendations for continued collaboration on wildfire management.

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Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation
As follow up to the September 2007 assessment, a seven person technical team of USFS and USAID/OFDA specialists traveled to Greece in October 2007 to work with the General Directorate of Development and Protection of Forests and Natural Environment in the Ministry of Rural Development and Food to address post-fire emergency impacts and share response and mitigation tools.  While in Greece, the USFS team worked with Greek counterparts to assess fire-induced flood and erosion hazards and possible treatment options, determine whether USFS tools and processes would be appropriate for Greece, and provide recommendations for strengthening post-fire risk assessment processes currently used in Greece. 

The emphasis of this visit was on USFS Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) tools, which help identify values at risk through the use of GIS and satellite-derived burn severity maps. In Greece, the team traveled to Olympia, an area of great cultural importance that was particularly impacted by the fires, to assess, analyze and suggest mitigations in the Kladeos watershed. The USFS team together with four Greek forestry officials created a joint BAER team to assess fire-induced flood and erosion hazards and possible treatment options in the watershed.  They also drafted a technical report which documents the process, methodology, statistical analysis, imagery, data and field verification methods used to identify high risk areas in the Kladeos watershed as well as suggested treatment options.  In addition, they provided ideas for enhancing disaster preparedness and fire management activities in Greece.  USFS and Greek partners will continue to exchange information and expertise on the rehabilitation of burned areas.

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US Based Training
Aerial Supervision Training: In spring 2008 and 2009, USFS hosted specialists from the Hellenic Fire Brigade and the Hellenic Air Force for training and exposure to supervision of aerial resources and coordination with ground-based operation during wildfire incidents.  Each year, four weeks of U.S. based training included: Air Attack Group Supervisor Training Course (S-378): The Greek firefighters participated in this 2-week USFS course in Sacramento, California together with USFS specialists. 

Practical Training:  Following the course, Greek personnel were assigned to an aerial attack platform and/or an Air Service Module (ASM) at an air tanker base for 2 weeks of practical training in Redding, California and Albuquerque, New Mexico.  The Greek personnel were deployed to active fires with USFS crew within the western U.S.

Wildland Fire Fighting Crew Experience: In spring 2008 and 2009, the Hellenic Fire Brigade (HFB) sent personnel to the U.S. for 8 weeks of training with the Little Tujunga Hotshot Crew on the Angeles National Forest in California, in an effort to enhance ground crew operations in Greece. Together with USFS crew members, the Greek specialists received two weeks of refresher training in fighting wildfire incidents, followed by six weeks of practical experience in fighting wildfires and organizing and managing ground crews, including training in fire behavior, fire preparedness, and water handling, with exposure to various aspects of fire management planning, incident management, interagency collaboration and decision making. 

Greek Assistance to the US: In July 2008, five Greek firefighters traveled to the U.S. to help combat severe wildfires raging across the state of California.  Two of these firefighters had participated in the earlier ground crew training and were already familiar with US methods and procedures.  This effort highlights the collaborative relationship established between the USFS and the HFB. 

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Fire Investigation and Prevention

Understanding wildfire cause and preventing new incidents, together with reducing relative economic and environmental losses, are challenges facing Greek firefighters.  Many of the wildfires in Greece occur in or around urban interface areas with additional challenges posed by rugged terrain. During initial planning discussions between USFS and Greek counterparts, fire investigation and fire prevention were identified as potential areas for collaboration between USFS and Greece.  

In May, 2008, a team of Forest Service investigation and prevention specialists traveled to Athens to study fire investigation and prevention techniques utilized by the Greeks and to provide training for the Hellenic Fire Brigade and Forestry Department personnel on U.S. methods and tools. After they spent a week investigating sites, visiting with various agencies and discussing prevention and investigation techniques, the team provided instruction on components of National Wildfire Coordination Group (NWCG) fire investigation and fire prevention courses through a training titled ‘Arson Origin and Cause Investigation and Fire Prevention Techniques.’  Course objectives included identification of fire causes, fire investigation techniques, values and hazards mapping, and fire prevention strategies. 

As follow up to the training program in Greece, US Forest Service hosted specialists from the Hellenic Fire Service, the Hellenic Forestry Department, and the Directorate of Civil Protection to the U.S. for a fire prevention study tour.  Participants attended the National Firewise Conference, and met with numerous specialists in the fire prevention community to better understand US wildfire prevention strategies.

In November, 2010, U.S. Forest Service specialists conducted two weeks of training and exchanges with Greek officials and citizens.  A team of US Forest Service fire investigation specialists provided a week-long advanced fire investigation course to personnel from the Hellenic Fire Brigade.  This course included a review of concepts taught in 2008, with the addition of more advanced units from the U.S. Version of FI-310, Wildland Fire Complex Case Development, including Forensic Photography, Forensic Interviewing (Interrogation), and Behavioral Evidence Analysis.  U.S. Forest Service specialists also met with various Greek officials to establish plans for future cooperation; participated in an US Emergency Response Conference hosted by the Ministry of Citizen Protection; and gave a series of lectures on U.S. wildfire management and interagency coordination to Greek NGOs and university students in Athens and Thessaloniki.   


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Global Climate Change Conference

On May 5th, 2008 Tom Harbour, Director of Fire and Aviation Management, USFS, spoke at the Forest and Fire Protection Session of the Global Climate Conference in Athens, Greece.  In a speech entitled ‘The Changing Flame,’ Mr. Harbour outlined the increasing challenges associated with fighting wildfires, and opportunities for mitigating the effects of wildfires.  Chief of the Hellenic Fire Brigade, Mr. Athanasios Kontokostas, provided a description of the devastating 2007 fire season, and the steps the Fire Brigades were taking to prepare for the 2008 fire season.  

During these meetings, a USFS team and Hellenic Fire Brigade specialists continued discussions about next steps for collaboration.  The two agencies signed a letter of intent for continued collaboration on wildfire management, outlining a series of training and partnership events that will bring Greek firefighters and forestry experts to the U.S. and US Forest Service specialists to Greece.

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