The aftermath of the recent fires that ravaged Greece during the early weeks of August has left both the country and Greeks of the Queens College community devastated.
The disaster began on August 3, 2021, after Greece experienced one of its worst heatwaves since 1978, drying up forests and lowering average humidity levels. Nearby countries including Italy and Turkey had also faced similar scorching temperatures.
Some of the worst fires took place in Evia, the second largest island in Greece and a major hub for tourism. Regions that were also directly impacted included most of Arcadia, Rhodes, Laconia, Attica, the southern Peloponnese, Olympia, and the northern suburbs of Athens.
In response to these events, diaspora communities across the world have mobilized to provide aid to organizations such as the Hellenic Red Cross and victims whose lives were impacted.
The American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), which has aided Greece in its humanitarian efforts in the past, launched its own disaster relief fund. The Hellenic Initiative, a non-profit organization, was also able to raise over $200,000 donations on Facebook.
President of the Queens College Ikaros Hellenic Club Maritsa Koutsouras, who had been visiting Greece during the wildfires, spoke to The Knight News about the aftermath: “Being in Greece with the fires has been tragic. You see people fleeing from their homes and villages which they’ve been in their whole lives. Some of my own extended family even came to stay in my aunt’s house. In addition, I commend the countries that have sent their forced to help slow and stop the fires.”
According to data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS), more than 272,000 acres have burned in Greece this year, five times the yearly average from 2008 to 2020.
Both Greece and the European Union responded by mobilizing around 900 firefighters as well as having help sent from at least 15 countries. In the span of nine days since the initial fires, over 60 evacuations were organized and 60,000 residents were forced to flee for safety.
Despite these efforts, many residents noticed the apparent lack of preparation on account of the Greek government. Sociology professor and founder of the Hellenic American Project at Queens College Dr. Nicholas Alexiou, shed some light on the situation to The Knight News:
“The massive fires spreading across Greece are devastating in every respect. This crisis has caught international attention and, at the very least, motivates us to think and act effectively and immediately. The key factors to consider are the climate crisis and politics. It is undeniable that human encroachment on nature has catastrophic effects. Human encroachment erodes natural habitats, threatens biodiversity, risks more global pandemics, and risks more fires. Fire is a natural phenomenon, however, the prevention of fire is a human responsibility. When humans disregard this stewardship of nature and natural resources, the damage surpasses what can be controlled and replaced. The Hellenic American Project (HAP), Department of Sociology at Queens College, CUNY stands in support of the fire victims. HAP will be contributing to the relief efforts organized by the Greek American community.”
Along with various organizations, several popular Greek social media influencers also utilized their broad online audience to raise funds. Thanasi Papoulias, who runs the well-known “Excuse Me, Are You Greek?” (@excusemeareyougreek) Instagram page, has been able to raise over $20,000 for the victims in Greece by using his wide platform.
While news of the fires has shaken Greeks of the Queens College community, many have found reassurance through seeing the unprecedented support given for those who have been affected.
“Seeing all these accounts spread awareness on the fires and then having Greeks reposting it shows how close we all are from one another. Not just Queens College but other places around New York too, I see my friends getting involved. It shows that despite everything that’s been going on, we still have the time and resources to support the country we came from,” says Queens College student and Greek American Theo Mantzikos.
As victims in Greece continue to recover from the fires and rebuild their homes that were lost, the overwhelming support shown by the diaspora has been a sign of hope for many.