It is summertime in Greece, and with it come the traditional wildfires. These are not natural forest fires; at least, it is thought that most of them are the result of deliberate arson. This is the product of a conflict between Greek law and society that has been going on for years. Most forested land in Greece is protected from development.

Those wishing to build sometimes respond by setting deliberate fires.

Sometime this is done in an amateurish way, other times explosives with remote detonators are used. Once the forest is burned down, the land becomes cheap and development can commence. Greece having a dry climate, frequently these fires get out of hand. The fires this year are particularly severe -- huge tracts of the Peloponnese have been burned to the ground, and giant plumes of smoke can be seen in satellite images like the one above.

That image is actually rather tame -- there are at present at least five major fires raging in southern Greece. Not only is this a major problem for conservation and a severe health hazard, these fires often threaten archaeological remains. One fire now burning near Olympia has come very close to the sanctuary of Zeus there, the original home of the Olympic games and one of the most significant sites in Greece.

An emergency effort has saved the site from destruction, but the threat is not over and other regions of Greece are in even graver danger.

This sort of thing has been allowed to continue for far too long. Greece has to regain control of the situation and crack down on illegal and shady development. Otherwise the human and cultural costs will only get worse.