The European Union has taken decisive action by doubling its fleet of available aircraft to combat forest fires within the bloc and neighbouring countries. EU Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, confirmed that the fleet now consists of 28 aircraft, including 10 water-bombing Canadair planes, 14 light amphibious planes, and four helicopters.
Lenarčič expressed concerns about the upcoming summer, describing it as potentially "busy, busy" due to the prevailing dryness and rising temperatures experienced across Europe.
The commissioner highlighted the early onset of dry conditions in Portugal, Spain, southern France, and northern Italy, regions that subsequently faced the challenge of flooding as rainwater struggled to penetrate the arid soil. Lenarčič emphasised that these conditions, coupled with increasing temperatures, significantly contribute to the risk of forest fires.
Last year, Europe witnessed its hottest summer on record, prompting European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen to announce the plan to double the firefighting air fleet. The strategically dispersed fleet ensures a rapid response across the EU when wildfires emerge during the critical period between June and October. The aircraft are stationed in ten member states: Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. The EU provides funding to these countries to maintain the fleet, known as rescEU, in a state of readiness.
The firefighting aircraft, particularly the Canadair planes, manufactured by Canada's De Havilland company, have proven to be invaluable assets in combating forest fires due to their capacity to drop large volumes of water precisely onto the flames. In addition to the strengthened fleet, Lenarčič disclosed that over 400 firefighting personnel will also be strategically positioned in Greece, France, and Portugal.
Lenarčič conducted the interview from the EU's Emergency Response Coordination Centre in Brussels, a facility equipped with advanced monitoring systems, a map table, and workstations used to coordinate crisis operations across the bloc. The centre, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary, supports the EU's civil protection mechanism and has been instrumental in various operations, such as delivering aid to conflict-affected Ukraine, dispatching COVID-19 vaccines to non-EU countries, and facilitating the repatriation of EU citizens during the pandemic.
Lenarčič emphasised the need for increased funding in the coming years, given the rising frequency and intensity of both man-made and natural disasters, including weather-related events caused by the climate crisis. He warned that “we will increasingly face weather-related events that are a consequence of the climate crisis.
“There should be more funding because of climate change, because we are witnessing an increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters in particular.”
The EU mechanism, established in 2001, has experienced a significant rise in activations, averaging around 100 per year, necessitating additional resources to cope effectively with future challenges.
September 26, 2023
September 22, 2023