Greece receives European aid for summer wildfire season

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece receives European aid for the summer wildfire season, with the first group of firefighters arriving in Athens.

The 28 Romanian firefighters were welcomed on Saturday by the Minister of Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Christos Stylianides and the leadership of the Greek fire brigade. In total, more than 200 firefighters from six European countries will eventually be deployed in Greece.

“Romania is delighted to participate in the pre-positioning program with a specialized fire service,” said Romanian team leader Colonel Alexandru-Adrian Csilik. “We have a previous experience here in Greece.”

The Romanians, along with other countries including Russia and Turkey, helped Greece fight widespread wildfires in August 2021, which broke out across the country and devastated the northern part of Evia, Greece’s second largest island, as well as the southern Peloponnese peninsula.

This year the EU launched a “pre-positioning pilot project” to lead to a permanent Europe-wide cooperation programme.

“We are increasing preparedness for the #forestfire season in Europe. From today, +200 (firefighters) from all over Europe will be strategically positioned in Greece to quickly join national forces before (fires) can get out of hand,” tweeted Janez Lenarcic, Stylianides’ successor as European Commissioner for Crisis Management.

The Romanian firefighters, who brought five fire trucks, will operate until July 31 in the Attica region, which also includes the capital Athens.

Those who arrived on Friday will be relieved on July 15 by an equal number of Romanian firefighters. Their place will be taken in August by a 25-strong French contingent.

A team of 16 Bulgarian firefighters, with four fire engines, also arrived on Friday in the city of Larissa, in central Greece, and were welcomed by local authorities and firefighters. The Bulgarians will remain in the area throughout July.

On July 15, 16 German firefighters start in the Peloponnese; they are replaced at the beginning of August by 14 Norwegian and 24 Finnish firefighters, who are relieved once in mid-August by an equal number of their compatriots.

Forest fires are common in Greece, helped by the hot and dry weather and frequent high winds. Climate change also means that wildfire seasons are also getting longer.

Greek authorities say higher fuel costs have contributed to the challenges facing the fire service, which relies heavily on water-dripping planes to fight fires in the mountainous country.

Greece will start using fire-retardant chemicals in water droplets this year and will also begin firing tactically to fight larger fires.

Four of the six leaders of the foreign contingents watched a live firefighting drill west of Athens on Thursday. The leaders of the German and Norwegian teams watched the exercise online.

A study by an international consortium of research institutions shows that the longer wildfire seasons and fire intensity will also negatively impact efforts to limit carbon dioxide emissions due to dwindling forests, which are normally effective carbon absorbers. The study even suggests that the intensity of wildfires could gradually exceed current firefighting capabilities.

Lefteris Pitarakis contributed to this report.