Fires Cancel Terra Vibe

The fires that have already cost 65 lives and left more than 16,000 homeless also forced the last-minute cancellation of Big Star’s Terra Vibe Festival.

The August 29 one-dayer featuring The Smashing Pumpkins, Manic Street Preachers and Kasabian was scrapped three days earlier under instruction from the department of civil protection.

"We already knew that it couldn’t happen because we’d spent the weekend watching TV news coverage of the fires. One was in a village that’s only 25 miles away and that killed five people," said Big Star press chief Demetra Madzouka, who described the disaster as being of "biblical proportions."

"The festival’s not important in the light of what’s been happening here and our hearts are with all those who’ve been affected by it," she added.

One fire broke out on the Terra Vibe site at Malakasa, although firemen contained it before any real damage was done. The entire area has been rated as being four out of four on the risk scale.

Police suspect that at least some of the fires were started by arsonists and have made seven arrests, although six of the suspects have since been released without charge.

Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has suggested the fires could have been started by political extremists in the run-up to the September 16 general elections.

"So many fires sparked simultaneously in so many places is no coincidence," he told international newswires, vowing to punish those responsible.

Other theories suggest the fires were started by developers who feel they have more chance of getting permission to rebuild on areas once they’ve been razed to the ground, although some still think the disaster is due to nothing more than the fact the recent heat wave has left some of the country’s wooded areas like a tinderbox.

The latest national opinion poll shows the ruling New Democracy party’s lead over the Socialist opposition was cut from 5 percent to a little less than 1 percent during the week after the fires started.

Socialist leader George Papandreou has called on the government to prove its arson case or stop making the accusations, claiming that it’s doing nothing but destabilizing the country.

On August 27, 2,000 people demonstrated in front of the Greek parliament to show their displeasure at the government’s earlier efforts at fighting the blazes. Another demonstration was planned for September 4.

The government has since granted instant aid to the distressed families of about euro 3,000 for the loss of a home and about euro 10,000 for the loss of a family member, although its critics are suggesting that Karamanlis has only acted so quickly in a last-ditch bid to hang on to power.

The payouts began on August 29, apparently underwritten by European Union aid, as firefighters gained ground on the dozens of fires that have scorched 180,000 hectares of the Greek countryside.

Big Star has already claimed the cancellation is a result of force majeure — the country’s still under a state of national emergency – and has requested the acts return their deposit payments before Big Star starts ticket refunds on September 18th.