Greece is battling “the largest wildfire ever recorded” in the European Union, prompting the bloc to mobilize almost half of its firefighting air wing to help tackle it, a European Commission spokesman said Tuesday. Eleven planes and one helicopter from the EU fleet have been sent to help Greece counter the fire raging in the Dadia National Park, along with 407 firefighters, EU spokesman Balazs Ujvari said.
Greece’s fire service told the AFP news agency that “the fire is still out of control” in the nature reserve, a major sanctuary for birds of prey. It is raging across a nearly six-mile front.
The EU currently has access to a collective fleet of 28 aircraft — 24 water-dumping planes and four helicopters — supplied by member countries to help battle blazes in the bloc and in neighbor nations. It is working on creating a standalone, EU-funded air wing of 12 aircraft that will be fully in place by 2030.
“We do know that fires are getting more severe,” Ujvari noted. “If you look at the figures every year in the past years, we are seeing trends which are not necessarily favorable, and that calls for of course more capacities at the member states’ level.”
Greece has been ravaged by numerous fires this summer which the government attributes to climate change.
The EU air deployment “underscores our commitment to swift and effective collective action in times of crisis,” the EU’s commissioner for crisis management Janez Lenarcic said.
Fire department officials in Greece arrested two men Saturday for allegedly deliberately setting fires, while hundreds of firefighters battled wildfires that killed at least 21 people last week.
One man was arrested on the island of Evia and accused of setting fire to dried grass. The fire department said the man confessed to having set four other fires in the area in July and August.
On Thursday last week, police arrested a 45-year-old man on suspicion of arson for allegedly setting at least three fires in the Avlona area. A search of his home revealed kindling, a fire torch gun and pine needles, police said.
Greece has been plagued by daily outbreaks of dozens of fires over the past week as gale-force winds and hot, dry summer conditions combined to whip up flames and hamper firefighting efforts.
Firefighters tackled 111 blazes Friday, including 59 that broke out in the 24 hours between Thursday and Friday evenings, the fire department said.
Although most new fires were controlled in their early stages, some grew into massive blazes that have consumed homes and vast tracts of forest.
Greece imposes wildfire prevention regulations, typically from the start of May to the end of October, to limit activities such as the burning of dried vegetation and the use of outdoor barbecues.
Source: CBS News