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The majority of cultural heritage and archaeological sites, especially in the Mediterranean region, are covered with vegetation, which increases the risk of fires. These fires may also break out and spread towards nearby forests and other wooded land, or conversely start in nearby forests and spread to archeological sites. In addition to possible deliberate actions for harming a particular site, common causes of unintentional fires are human carelessness, exposure to extreme heat and aridity, and lightning strikes.

For example, in the summer of 2007, Ancient Olympia, a UNESCO world heritage site and the birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games, was seriously endangered by a fast-moving wildfire. The local archaeological site contains the remains of the ancient stadium, temples, the museum and administrative buildings. The fire reached the hill overlooking ancient Olympia and it was stopped just before entering the archaeological site, but not before reaching a historic pine-covered hilltop above the renowned stadium. Flames licked the edges of the original Olympic stadium and scorched the yard of the museum, home to one of Greece's greatest archaeological collections. The surrounding forest was destroyed.

More recently (August 2009) a multi-front wildfire raged the northeast of the greater Athens area and burnt 21,000 hectares of pine forest, olive groves, shrub land and farmland. Among the damaged areas was Marathon, site of one of history's most famous battlegrounds between the Greeks and the Persians in 490 B.C. and an area of supreme natural beauty.The wildfire encircled the museum of Marathon and closed in on the archaeological site of Rhamnus, which is home to two 2,500-year-old temples, the Marathon battle site, the Tomb of the Marathon Warriors and the Tomb of the Plataeans. The antiquities linked to the battle of Marathon were not directly damaged, however the physical setting of the sites was destroyed. Two months earlier, a fire in Boeotia threatened the Mycenaean citadel of Gla (13th century BC). The archeological site of Gla, which was repeatedly threatened by fires during the last decade, is one of the possible demonstrator sites of FIRESENSE.

Recent wildfires have caused significant damage to many archeological and heritage sites in Turkey as well. In July 2007, the 2nd century BC theater and the necropolis of the antique city of Notion (Ahmetbeyli, Aegean coast, 50 km south of Izmir) were partially destroyed by a wildfire. In February 2008, three houses in the Camiatik, a district of Kusadasi near Ephesus, were burned. These houses were classified as 1st degree heritage sites. A fire destroyed one hectare of pine trees in the Sulucahoyuk archeological area in Nevsehir province in 2006. The site has been inhabited by people since the Neolithic age and it also contains remains from the Assyrian, Hittite, Phrygian, Hellenistic and late-Roman periods. In June 2008, a fire destroyed 2km2 of land covered with shrubs in the ancient city of Laodikia in Denizli province. Some marble ruins were also damaged by the bush fire. During Summer of 2007 a forest fire broke out near the Ancient City of Ephesus and the House of the Virgin Mary (Mt. Koressos) at Selcuk Turkey. Luckily, fire fighters were able to control the fire and the ancient city of Ephesus did not suffer any harm.

A detailed overview on the forest fire situation in Europe is presented in the reports of the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS). Figures show that even though warmer countries are naturally more vulnerable to fires, the effects of fires are no less disastrous for colder countries. The five most vulnerable countries of EU are Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, and Greece. During 2007, fires in these five countries burned a total area of 575 531 hectares, which is well above the average for the last 28 years. Turkey was also among the countries suffered from wildfires during 2007. Specifically, 2829 forest fires occurred, burning a total area of 11 664 ha, of which 7 827ha were forest land. Overall, 2007 has been one of the worst years in terms of the damages caused by forest fires in Europe. The country that was most heavily damaged was Greece, followed by Italy. The situation was somehow impoved in 2008, but seems to be deteriorating during 2009. Up-to-date information about burned areas and Fire danger in Europe is available from EFFIS.

Beyond taking precautionary measures to avoid a forest fire, early warning and immediate response to a fire breakout are the only ways to avoid great losses and environmental and cultural heritage damages. Hence, the most important goals in fire surveillance are quick and reliable detection and localization of the fire. It is much easier to suppress a fire when the starting location is known, and while it is in its early stages. An automatic fire detection system that relies on multisensor network can provide early fire warning, as well as gather information about the location, spread and direction of the fire and about the temperature and smoke conditions at various locations. These are highly valuable for managing the fire during all its stages. Based on this information, the firefighting staff can be guided on target to block the fire before it reaches cultural heritage sites and to suppress it quickly by utilizing the required firefighting equipment and vehicles.

 

Satellite image of the fires that broke out in southern Greece in August 2007 taken by Rapidfire-NASA

 

 

 

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