EU beefs assistance as Greece burns

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Brussels is organising Europe’s biggest firefighting effort by sending extra support to help Greece combat unprecedented forest fires and the rest of the Mediterranean wilting under extreme heat.

Following requests from Greece, North Macedonia, Albania, Italy and Turkey, the European Union has helped mobilise 14 firefighting planes, 3 helicopters, 1,300 rescuers and 250 vehicles.

In Greece alone, 9 planes, close to 1,000 firefighters and 200 vehicles are currently being deployed.

Germany, Poland, Austria, and Slovakia are sending ground firefighting units.

They will join units already operating in the country: ground firefighting crews from Cyprus, France, Czechia and Romania and planes from Cyprus, Sweden, France, Croatia and Spain.

This is in addition to assistance already deployed last week to help fight forest fires in Italy, Albania and North Macedonia and ongoing EU-coordinated firefighting operations in Turkey.

“We are mobilising one of Europe’s biggest ever common firefighting operations as multiple fires affect several countries simultaneously.

“This shows the need also to prioritise crisis response at the European level,” EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič.

He said the EU stands in full solidarity with Greece, North Macedonia, Albania, Italy, and Turkey, at this difficult time.

In addition, the EU`s emergency Copernicus satellite is helping to provide damage assessment maps of the affected areas in North Macedonia and Greece.

Greece on fire

Greece is facing a “natural disaster of unprecedented proportions,” as 586 wildfires burn in “all corners” of the country, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a televised address on Monday.

The Mediterranean nation is broiling under one of its worst heatwaves in decades, and firefighters continue to battle blazes across the country.

Sixty-three organized evacuations have taken place in the past few days, Mitsotakis said.

He also apologized “for any weaknesses” on the part of the government in containing the wildfires, which have destroyed hundreds of homes and forced people to evacuate dozens of villages over the past week.

“These last days have been some of the most difficult for our country in decades.”

Extreme heat and months of drought have compounded firefighting efforts.

Environmental authorities have warned that southern Europe, where droughts are becoming more frequent and severe, is at the greatest risk from the impacts of climate change on the continent.

“It is obvious that the climate crisis is affecting the whole planet,” Mitsotakis said.

“That is the explanation, but not an excuse or an alibi.

“We may have done everything humanly possible, but in many cases, this did not seem to be enough in the unequal battle with nature.”