EU countries assist Greece in fighting forest fires
The EU has increased (1) its assistance to Greece in fighting major forest fires over the weekend. Several fires are raging in the immediate vicinity of Athens, threatening residential areas. To reinforce the Greek fire-fighting efforts, other EU countries are providing aircraft via the European Civil Protection Mechanism. In addition to the assistance provided by member states, an EU reserve of fire-fighting aircraft was dispatched on Saturday and will continue to provide assistance to Greece today. The European reserve can be used to help national forces overwhelmed by forest fires. This is the fifth time this summer that the EU reserve has been deployed.
Stavros Dimas, European Commissioner for Environment and Civil Protection, said: "The forest fires near Athens are creating an ecological disaster. It is imperative to bring them under control as quickly as possible. The assistance offered by EU Member States via the Civil Protection Mechanism shows the strength of European solidarity in the face of such disasters. It is a practical example of European added value in responding to natural disasters like forest fires. The European reserve of forest fire fighting aircraft is also making a significant contribution to the fire-fighting efforts in Greece."
Greece requested assistance in dealing with the forest fires in the Athens area on Saturday. The situation remains extremely difficult, with the fires fuelled by high temperatures and strong winds. A number of residential areas have had to be evacuated.
The intervention in Greece is the biggest Civil Protection Mechanism operation in 2009 to date. A total of eight planes and one helicopter are assisting Greece. Italy, France, Spain and Cyprus provided assistance in response to Greece's request. In addition, the EU forest fire tactical reserve is being deployed to fill gaps in aerial fire-fighting capacity. All aerial fire-fighting capacity that was offered and accepted is either still in use or expected to arrive later today.
Overview of assistance provided
European Forest Fire Tactical Reserve
Two fire-fighting aircraft of the type Canadair CL‑215 - the European Forest Fire Tactical Reserve – are available this summer from 1 July – 30 September to assist EU Member States facing major forest fires, if and when other Member States are unable to provide the required assistance. The €3.5m project is financed by the European Union with the aim of stepping cooperation between Member States on combating forest fires. The pilot project is run by France and the two planes are stationed in Corsica. The pilot project is a test for new arrangements in European civil protection.
The Community Mechanism for Civil Protection
The Community Mechanism (2) aims to facilitate reinforced cooperation in civil protection assistance interventions. It ensures the coordination of assistance intervention in order to provide prompt support and to assist a country inside and outside the European Union in need of help. The main objective is to provide the best possible response when a major emergency situation arises. 30 countries (3) participate in the Community Mechanism. Since its creation, the Mechanism has been activated for around 100 disasters both within and outside the EU.
Mechanism activities are coordinated by the Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) , which is run by the European Commission and located in DG Environment, Civil Protection Unit.
Further information: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/civil/prote/mic.htm
(1) : See press release Sunday 23/08/09 IP/09/1248
(2) : Council Decision of 8 November 2007 (2007/779/EC, Euratom)
(3) : EU 27, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway