Wildfire response plans overhauled in Greece ahead of summer fire season

Greek authorities presented new plans Thursday for tackling wildfires which often ravage the country during its hot, dry summers, including changes in the deployment of firefighting aircraft and increased staffing in specialized forest firefighting units.

The new plans come after massive fires last year killed more than 20 people and decimated vast tracts of forest and farmland, including a blaze in northeastern Greece which raged out of control for about two weeks, growing into the largest wildfire recorded in a European Union country since the European Forest Fire Information System began keeping records in 2000.

The government has pointed to a changing climate and extreme weather that has included drier winters and more frequent summer heatwaves as contributing to an increased risk of forest fires.


The new plans were presented by the head of the fire department, Lt. Gen. Theodoros Vagias, to coincide with International Day of Forests on March 21.

A firefighter is seen on July 19, 2022, in northern Athens, Greece. Greek authorities presented new plans on Thursday for tackling wildfires, which often ravage the country during its hot, dry summers. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis, File)

“This is a big fight for us. It’s climate crisis, it’s a time of need,” Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias said, speaking at the presentation. “We’re going to have a huge effort this summer to do the best of what we can do, to the best of our abilities, in order to be able to protect Greeks, protect tourists, protect their houses, and protect, of course, the wildlife and our forests.”

The changes include having water-dropping aircraft take off in the initial stages of the outbreak of a wildfire instead of waiting for a request for air support from ground firefighting crews once the blaze has already spread, and having more fire trucks deploy in the initial stages of any wildfire.


The number of specialized forest firefighting crews will increase from six to 16, including 10 that will be able to deploy rapidly by aircraft, while forestry units will be deployed on the ground with firefighters for better coordination during fires.

Greece is also seeking to increase its water-dropping aircraft fleet with seven new Canadair planes over the next few years. The aircraft are the main means of aerial firefighting used in Greece and several other European countries, and Greek lawmakers were expected to approve a bill Thursday regarding the purchase.

The procurement is for five new planes with a six-ton water capacity, along with two additional aircraft to be obtained through the European Union’s civil protection RescEU program that assists member states in the handling of disasters, government spokesperson Pavlos Marinakis said Thursday.

Marinakis said the first two planes would be delivered to Greece in 2027, one more in 2028 and another in 2029, with the remaining three arriving in 2030.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is scheduled to travel to Canada on Sunday for meetings that are expected to include the signing of the Canadair deal.

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