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Ministers announce mammoth fire prevention plan, aircraft upgrade

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A fire protection program budgeted at 1.76 billion euros will replace old water-dropping airplanes and allow the hire of of 3,000 permanent firefighters, Citizen Protection Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis and Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias announced on Tuesday.

At a press conference in the northern suburb of Maroussi, the ministers detailed the fire-prevention program named “Aegis” that they described as the largest to date procurement program for non-military use. It will be discussed at the first interministerial meeting on Wednesday, they said.

“The core of the plan revolves around locating a fire fast and responding quickly,” Hardalias said.

According to details presented at the press conference and following a meeting between the two ministers later, the government will procure 8 new Canadair CL-515 aircraft (replacing CL-215s), and upgrade CL-415s to CL-515s.

This year, 69 helicopters and airplanes operated out of 25 bases throughout Greece, while 36 new amphibious Air-Tractor firefighting aircraft will be leased. Greece has already leased six this year, which will be purchased by 2030 if the program’s budget is approved. The purchase will pay itself off within an estimated 9 years, as the state will not be spending funds on leasing airplanes and helicopters annually.

An additional cost to the state was the cleaning away of debris that the Interior Ministry has supplementary funded, and that remains a problem, they said, as well as a fire risk. “A few days ago we flew over Attica with Mr. Hardalias and what we saw terrified us – if all this isn’t removed, we will risk new tragedies,” Chrisochoidis said.

Other measures include a new network of water tanks holding 40,000 liters each at 13 locations in Greece to help areas at a distance from the sea or lakes, and increasing forest patrol units to 820 in 2021 (compared to 764 last year), assisted by the 80 seasonal firefighting units at high-risk areas.

The cleaning-up operation “Dryads” at high-risk areas will remove flammable material in 18 regions of Attica, including Salamina island, and will help open roads for access by firetrucks. This will include plans to blocking private car access to Schinias beach in Marathonas and cleaning the pine forest on the shore — access by municipal bus is under discussion with the Marathonas mayor.

Three forested areas in Attica – Tatoi, Hymettus and Ippokratios Politia – and another three in the rest of Greece – Seich Sou in Thessaloniki, Ancient Olympia and at the Halkidiki peninsual – will also fall under the program. 

In addition, a heavy-duty Beriev amphibious aircraft is expected to arrive from Russia on Friday. It can carry 12 tons of water or flame retardant, and will be used in difficult situations, they said.

[ΑΝΑ-ΜPΑ]