10 water-bombing Canadair planes (above) will be on hand for the bloc this season. Alamy Stock Photo

EU doubles firefighting aircraft fleet ahead of hot and dry summer

The aircraft are stationed in 10 member states while over 400 firefighters will be pre-positioned in Greece, France and Portugal.

THE EUROPEAN UNION has doubled the number of aircraft available to help fight forest and wildfires in the bloc and neighbouring countries to 28 in total.

10 water-bombing Canadair planes, 14 light amphibious planes and four helicopters will be on hand for what threatens to be a “busy, busy summer” the EU commissioner for crisis management Janez Lenarcic told reporters.

“This year has already started much drier than average,” he said, noting parched conditions until recently in Portugal, Spain, southern France and northern Italy – some of which have since experienced flooding as rainwater struggled to permeate desiccated soil.

The unusual early dryness, combined with climbing temperatures Europe is now experiencing, are, “of course, a major driver of forest fires,” Lenarcic said.

After 2022 brought the hottest European summer on record, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen in September announced the plan to double the firefighting air fleet.

The fleet is dispersed strategically across the EU, so that it can respond quickly right across the bloc when blazes flare in the critical June-to-October months.

The aircraft are stationed in 10 member states: Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

The EU provides the funds so the national authorities of those countries can keep the fleet, known under the name rescEU, in a state of readiness.

Key firefighting tools

The low-speed aircraft are key assets to counter forest fires, with their ability to dump tonnes of water on flames at precise locations.

The Canadairs in particular, aircraft made by Canada’s De Havilland company, have proven their value time and again in previous fire seasons.

baudeun-provence-france-27th-july-2015-planes-tackle-a-forest-fire-on-a-hill-in-the-verdon-national-park-provence-south-of-france-which-broke-out-after-a-very-dry-summer-credit-on-sight-phot Canadair planes in action in France in 2015. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

In addition, Lenarcic said, more than 400 firefighting personnel will be pre-positioned in Greece, France and Portugal.

He gave his interview in the EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre in Brussels, a control room with a wall of monitors, a map table and work stations used to direct bloc-wide crisis operations.

The centre this month celebrates a decade of existence, supporting the EU’s civil protection mechanism that has been used, among other things, to send equipment, food and medicine to war-torn Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion.

It was also activated to dispatch Covid-19 vaccines to non-EU countries, and for the repatriation of EU citizens during the coronavirus pandemic.

beijing-belgium-2nd-mar-2020-european-commission-president-ursula-von-der-leyen-l-speaks-at-a-press-conference-on-eus-response-to-covid-19-at-the-eu-emergency-response-coordination-centre-in-br EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks at the EU Emergency Response Coordination Centre during the Covid-19 pandemic. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Most recently, it has been used to help populations struck by a devastating earthquake that rippled across southeastern Turkey and northern Syria.

The EU mechanism was created in 2001. In its first two decades, it was activated an average 20 times a year.

In the last couple of years, that has jumped to around 100 times a year, Lenarcic said, adding that it would likely need more funding in the years to come to cope.

On top of man-made and natural disasters such as Ukraine and quakes, “we will increasingly face weather-related events that are a consequence of the climate crisis,” Lenarcic warned.

“There should be more funding because of the climate change, because we are witnessing an increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters in particular.”

© AFP 2023

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