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Greece wildfire relief underway

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers from five states are planning trips to Greece in the aftermath of wildfires that raged across 469,000 acres in late August, destroying more than 100 villages and killing at least 67 people.

Teams of disaster relief specialists from Alabama, California, Kentucky, Texas and Virginia will help clean debris from the fires and cut logs for terraces to minimize erosion from autumn rains, said Terry Henderson, director of disaster relief for the North American Mission Board, who is coordinating the teams. Agriculture volunteers, meanwhile, will help residents of mountain villages re-establish their livelihoods where the fires destroyed olive groves, vineyards and livestock.

Drought conditions earlier this year left the country’s fabled Olympia region vulnerable to fire, and gale-force winds drove blazes out of control, trapping many residents in their homes and forcing others to flee with only what they could carry. More than 3,000 fires ravaged thousands of wooded acres during the summer -– the worst fire disaster in decades. Greece’s national government declared a state of emergency.

“People who live in the area are destitute because the fires destroyed virtually everything they have,” said Abraham Shepherd, area director for Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist international development and relief organization.

Shepherd drove back into the mountains to assess needs in remote villages that had not received help in the immediate aftermath of the fires. He said residents desperately need assistance.

“Their main source of food and income is gone,” Shepherd said. “The fires destroyed flocks of goats and sheep and the vineyards and olive trees. It will take seven years for new olive trees to produce their first crop. People can’t decide whether to cut back the trees and hope they re-grow next season or go ahead and cut them down, plant new trees and wait seven years for a crop.”

Agricultural volunteers will help people make decisions like that. Others will help clear burned homes so residents can rebuild. Trees burned in the fires will be cut down so the logs can be used to minimize erosion. Shepherd said the roads he traveled are in danger of becoming impassable because of erosion. That would leave villages even more isolated from the help they need.

Many residents believe no one cares about their plight, Shepherd said.

“I arrived in one village and saw an older woman washing clothes by hand,” he said. “She looked at me and said, ‘So, you have come to see our misery.’ I told her, ‘No, I have come to see your need.'”

When he explained that he wanted to connect people who care with the needs in her village, she immediately told other villagers the good news.

“The fires left a black soot that covers everything in these villages,” Shepherd said. “The people are hoping new growth will emerge from the black dust. We are praying that Southern Baptist assistance will cause new growth in their hearts as well.”

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  • Mark Kelly