By DEMETRIS NELLAS
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece is receiving European assistance for the summer wildfire season, with the first group of firefighters arriving in Athens.
The 28 Romanian firefighters were welcomed Saturday by Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides and the leadership of Greece’s Fire Service. A total of more than 200 firefighters from six European countries will eventually be deployed to Greece.
“Romania is happy to join the pre-positioning program with a specialized firefighting force,” Romanian team leader Col. Alexandru-Adrian Csilik said. “We have a previous experience here in Greece.”
The Romanians, along with other countries, including Russia and Turkey, helped Greece fight widespread wildfires in August 2021, which broke out across the country and devastated the northern part of Evia, Greece’s second-largest island, as well as the southern Peloponnese peninsula.
This year, the EU has set up a “pre-positioning pilot project” designed to lead to a permanent Europe-wide cooperation program.
“We are scaling up preparedness to #forestfire season in Europe. As of today, +200 (firefighters) from around Europe will be strategically positioned in Greece to quickly join national forces before (fires) could get out of control,” Janez Lenarcic, Stylianides’ successor as European commissioner for crisis management, tweeted Friday.
The Romanian firefighters, who brought five fire engines along, will operate in the Attica region, which includes the capital Athens, until July 31.
Those who arrived Friday will be relieved by an equal number of Romanian firefighters on July 15. Their place will be taken in August by a 25-strong French contingent.
A team of 16 Bulgarian firefighters, with four fire engines, also arrived Friday in the city of Larissa, in central Greece, and was welcomed by local authorities and Fire Service officers. The Bulgarians will stay in the area throughout July.
On July 15, 16 German firefighters will start operating in the Peloponnese; they will be replaced in early August by 14 Norwegian and 24 Finnish firefighters, who will be relieved once, in mid-August, by an equal number of their compatriots.
Wildfires are frequent in Greece, helped by the hot and dry weather and frequent high winds. Climate change also means that wildfire seasons are also getting longer.
Greek authorities say higher fuel costs have added to challenges facing the fire service, which relies heavily on water-dropping planes to battle blazes in the mountainous country.
Greece will begin using fire retardant chemicals in water drops this year and will also use starting fires tactically to fight larger blazes.
Four of the six leaders of the foreign contingents watched a live firefighting exercise west of Athens on Thursday. The leaders of the German and Norwegian teams watched the exercise online.
A study by an international consortium of research institutions shows that the expanded wildfire seasons and intensity of the fires will also negatively impact efforts to limit carbon dioxide emissions because of dwindling forests, which are normally effective carbon absorbers. The study even suggests that the intensity of wildfires could progressively exceed current firefighting capabilities.
Lefteris Pitarakis contributed to this report.
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