Rhodes, Athens, Alexandroupolis: The forest fires in Greece have caused disproportionate damage this year. There has been a fire in the Evros border region in the north-east of the country for 14 days now. Hundreds of firefighters are on duty, but the fires have not been brought under control so far. The EU Commission announced last week that the fires near the port city of Alexandroupolis are the biggest fires in the history of the European Union. The flames are also raging in the Dadia National Park near the Greek-Turkish borders, which is one of the most important protected areas in Europe. (Read more about it here)
While the numerous major fires are fueling concern and resentment in Greece, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has announced new plans to better protect his country against severe forest fires in the future. "There have been, are and will always be fires in the Mediterranean climate. Unfortunately - that's what everyone on the ground is telling us - these fires will become increasingly difficult to fight over time and we don't know how this crisis will develop," said the party leader of the conservative Nea Dimokratia (ND) on Thursday during a speech in parliament.
That is why the Greek government wants to upgrade firefighting in various areas. According to Mitsotakis, the Canadair 515 firefighting aircraft that have been delivered are to expand the fleet "in 2026, at the latest in 2027". This will make his country the first among the European countries to get modern fire-fighting aircraft.
In fact, forest fires in the Mediterranean countries are practically in the nature of things due to the long periods of heat in summer. However, the series of fires that is currently continuing in Greece shows that the authorities obviously need to be better equipped to protect themselves against fire. This year, for example, there were significantly more fires in countries such as Spain, Italy, France, although less area was destroyed there. This was reported by the Greek weather service Meteo with reference to data from the European Union's Copernicus earth observation program. In Greece, up to last Wednesday, August 30th, an increase in the burned area of 365 percent was measured compared to the average for the years 2002 to 2022.
So there is still room for improvement when it comes to effective firefighting in Greece. The Greek Prime Minister also admitted this with regard to the most recent forest fire balance. "Did everything go perfectly? Apparently not. And despite the enormous effort that has been made, we are still behind on demand," said Mitsotakis.
One area where there is still room for improvement is in early warning technology systems. The time it takes for the fire brigade to intervene in the event of a fire also needs to be improved. To achieve this, the government plans to purchase more than 100 drones. These are to monitor endangered places, whereby artificial intelligence is also to be used. "So that we can be notified of a fire outbreak as soon as it happens," Mitsotakis explained.
Temperature measuring sensors, cameras in all archaeological sites and in highly endangered forests should also help. Furthermore, one wants to get access to better satellite images in order to have information about the course of a fire in real time. In addition, new staff are to be hired: 500 foresters, 1,000 firefighters. Also planned is an expansion of the fire fighting unit, which in the event of a large fire will approach the fire site closely and lay counterfire. The armed forces should also be more involved.
Sources: Prime Minister Mitsotakis website, Meteo