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We are also following news from overseas, including Greece, where the news is in the air. Austerity has changed the look and the smell of the atmosphere in Athens. Wood smoke pours from tens of thousands of fireplaces and wood-burning stoves. They're used by people who can no longer afford heating oil. And their shortage of cash is today's business bottom line. Some desperate Greeks are even raiding protected forests to find fuel, raising fears of mass deforestation on a scale not seen in Greece since the Second World War. Joanna Kakissis reports.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Sotiris Sotiriou and his two young daughters are wearing thick sweaters and adding wood from olive-tree saplings into the flames of their living-room fireplace.

SOTIRIS SOTIRIOU: (Greek spoken)

KAKISSIS: Last year, the fireplace was just decorative, he says. This year it's how we heat our home.

Like many Greeks, Sotiriou and his wife, Haroula Lappa, cannot afford to buy heating oil. Sotiriou has no business at the home-improvement store he owns since the construction industry has all but halted. And nearly all of Haroula's salary as a court clerk goes to their monthly mortgage payment of about $900.

HAROULA LAPPA: (Greek spoken)

KAKISSIS: At least the wood from the olive trees is free, Haroula says. The trees are on a family plot outside Athens. On a walk in her quiet blue-collar suburb, we smell wood smoke from other fireplaces. Two weeks ago, she smelled something else.

LAPPA: (Through translator) It smelled like burning paint. Someone must have been a burning door with the windows still set in. When the girls and I were walking home, it was hard to breathe. We used our coats as masks.

KAKISSIS: Stephanos Sambatakakis of the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention is worried that the poorest Greeks are actually burning old furniture to stay warm. He says those noxious fumes could soon give people some nasty ailments.

STEPHANOS SAMBATAKAKIS: Inflammation on their eyes, difficulty during respiration, headaches and nausea.

KAKISSIS: Scientists are now studying the particles in the fumes, which Sambatakakis says could also cause lung inflammation.

SAMBATAKAKIS: And in extreme cases, lung cancer.

KAKISSIS: Environmentalist Grigoris Gourdomichalis is on a Jeep patrol in a protected forest on a hill west of Athens. Illegal logging is rampant here. He says it's not just the poor chopping saplings to use as fuel to stay warm. Poachers also sell the wood for profit.

GRIGORIS GOURDOMICHALIS: (Through translator) Before World War II, this forest had so many trees. But the Germans and Italians took the heating oil and coal during the war and the Greeks were forced to chop down all the trees for firewood so they could cook and keep themselves warm. The forest has since recovered so we can't let it be destroyed again.

KAKISSIS: Gourdomichalis says the patrols have stopped some of the deforestation.

GOURDOMICHALIS: (Greek spoken)

KAKISSIS: But then he and a colleague spot another threat to the forest. Someone has destroyed a giant water tank used to fight summer forest fires. Gourdomichalis says the tank's steel frame was cut to be sold as scrap metal.

GOURDOMICHALIS: (Greek spoken)

KAKISSIS: People are destroying everything in a desperate effort to survive, or they're using the crisis to make a profit, he says.

GOURDOMICHALIS: (Greek spoken)

KAKISSIS: He peers out the Jeep's window. It's getting dark and he sees a smoky fog starting to hang over his city. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.

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