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Photo: Petros Karadjias/AP.
Firefighters try to extinguish a fire in Avgaria village on Evia, an island about 115 miles north of Athens, Aug. 10, 2021.

The Greek government was doing nothing to fight the raging fires on Evia island, and some mainland folks watching the disaster on television couldn’t stand what they were seeing. So they took matters into their own hands.

Tony Rigopoulos and Dominique Soguel reported the story for the Christian Science Monitor.

“Volunteers were the first – and at times only – line of defense against the wildfires that engulfed the Greek island of Evia this week, leaving charred olive trees in a sea of ashes.

“Some were brave local youth. Others came from other parts of the country, shocked into action by the inadequacy of the government response as it scrambled to fight an unprecedented number of fires across multiple fronts, including the capital, Athens.

“Wherever they came from, the volunteers, as well as grassroots support from nearby cities and towns to get supplies into fire-stricken areas, have helped save lives and property from roaring blazes across the island, located just northeast of Athens. The destruction the fires caused is nonetheless catastrophic for many living on Evia, especially in its heavily wooded north. But the actions of volunteers helped prevent loss of life and keep a bad situation from becoming that much worse.

“[The fire] broke out on Aug. 3 and continued to smolder through Thursday. A sinister smoke hung over the small western port of Aidipsos early Wednesday as firefighters and volunteers from other parts of Greece arrived to help Evia.

“The blaze had spared the port, an important entry point to the island, but consumed more than 110,000 acres just beyond. Some villages continued to burn, adding to the bitterness of residents who say the government prioritized fighting a wildfire at a large forest near Athens and allowed the fires on Evia to grow into a huge front that was impossible to battle.

“Known for its fierce winds that stayed mercifully calm in recent days, the island’s north boasted beautiful pine forests that went up in flames all the same, along with vineyards and olive groves. Thousands of residents work either in small honey or resin production facilities. …

Said soccer coach Vaggelis Bekakos, ‘The volunteers saved Evia because there was no one there to help.’ …

“After the fierce wildfires of 2016, says the coach, residents of Limni created a volunteer corps of firefighters and rescuers who received proper training. They are bound by an oath to drop their day jobs and serve any time that there is a fire alert. Mr. Bekakos credits their heroic acts to save the town – broadcast on national TV – with inspiring villagers in other parts of the island to also fight the flames, rather than flee.

“ ‘We were asking the fire service to spray some water on a house that was beginning to burn and they would answer, “We have no such order. Our order is to evacuate the people, not to spray water,” ‘ he recalls. …

“Greece had to battle nearly 600 fires in the span of just eight days, issuing 65 evacuation alerts and evacuating 63,000 people, according to Nikos Hardalias, the deputy minister of crisis management. ‘What I know is that the choices we made saved lives,’ he told journalists on Tuesday. ‘We didn’t underestimate any fire. … We had to deal with a situation that was unique for the fire service: 568 fires!’ …

“Five days after the start of the fires, Marinos, a native of the southern part of Evia who now studies in Athens, went with his friends to the scorching north because there appeared to be no government effort to bring the flames under control.

“ ‘We took branches from trees to hit the flames until they died,’ says Marinos, who didn’t give his last name. ‘Later a man came from the village with his car, carrying the watering tank he uses for his vines. We used that water too. We used anything we could find. …

“ ‘It’s not only the houses, it’s the forest. Their whole life is now in the past. What can they do after this?’

“Maria Papadopoulou, a native of Athens, has devoted days to delivering food and water packages to those in need, shuttling villagers to safety, and rescuing and feeding the few animals that survived the inferno. She agrees that the loss of the forest is a huge problem. ‘The forest and the animals are gone forever,’ she says. ‘In a few days, all the volunteers will leave and the people of the villages will be really alone then. They will continue to live in this huge cemetery.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here.

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Artists seem to think differently from people who aren’t artists, which is why Renée Loth likes the idea of embedding a few in government.

“Imagine a dancer working with police officers to better interpret a suspect’s gait,” she writes. “Or a musician teaching a city parking clerk how to listen deeply. Or an abstract painter rearranging a tangle of contradictory street signs. That’s the idea behind Boston’s new artist-in-residence program, which will embed local artists inside city departments to promote creative thinking about municipal government. …

“ ‘Artists are all about asking questions,’ says Julie Burros, Boston’s cabinet-level chief of arts and culture. ‘They bring a unique set of tools to solving problems.’

“A jury of seven arts professionals and partners from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design [met in February] to winnow a field of 10 finalists to three artists, who will each receive a $20,000 stipend for a six-month residency. …

“Boston is in the throes of a comprehensive planning process that is working to inject fresh ideas into city transportation, housing, and zoning policies. Burros is directing the city’s two-year cultural plan, Boston Creates, and is a prime force behind the artist-in-residence program.

“But Boston is hardly in the vanguard of this approach. The concept dates back to at least 1976, when activist Mierle Ukeles accepted a nonsalaried position as the first artist in residence of the New York City sanitation department.

“Over the decades, Ukeles created artworks that engage questions of nature, class, and culture; her ‘Flow City,’ a video installation at a Hudson River transfer station, confronts visitors with their own role in the massive waste management task of city government. Environmental education is a dull, dutiful business — until it’s in the hands of a performance artist. …

“In 16th century Europe, wealthy rulers of church and state often commissioned artists to live and work in their courts — you might say that Michelangelo was embedded in the Vatican. Today’s artists in residence may not paint the ceiling of City Hall, but they will surely contribute to Boston’s renaissance.”

More at the Boston Globe.

Art: Pep Montserrat for The Boston Globe

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