Firefighters in Greece battling 'largest wildfire ever recorded in EU'

Firefighters in Greece battling ‘largest wildfire ever recorded in EU’

A forest blaze in Greece is “the largest wildfire ever recorded in the EU” and the bloc is mobilising nearly half its firefighting air wing to tackle it, a European Commission spokesman said Tuesday.

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Eleven planes and one helicopter from the EU fleet have been sent to help Greece counter the fire north of the city of Alexandroupoli, along with 407 firefighters, spokesman Balazs Ujvari said.

The EU’s civil protection service said the fire has burnt over 810 square kilometres (310 square miles) — an area bigger than New York City.

“This wildfire is the largest in the EU since 2000, when the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) began recording data,” the service said.

Greece’s fire service told AFP that the blaze was “still out of control” in the northeast region’s Dadia National Park, a major sanctuary for birds of prey.

Since it began on August 19, the blaze has claimed the lives of 20 people, 18 of them migrants whose bodies were found in a region that is often used as an entry point from neighbouring Turkey.

The EU currently calls on a fleet of 28 aircraft — 24 water-dumping planes and four helicopters — supplied by member countries to help battle blazes in the bloc and in nearby neighbours.

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 favourable, 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.