Amid fire probe, debate about joint EU force


As Greek authorities continued with an investigation into the causes of a large wildfire that razed hundreds of hectares of forestland on the island of Evia last week, debate is intensifying about the need for a joint European firefighting fleet.

Two suspects are being probed by the Greek fire department’s special arson section (DAEE) in connection with a possible arson scenario linked to last week’s blaze on Evia though the possibility that the fire started by accident has not been ruled out.

On Saturday, Greece’s general secretary for civil protection, Nikos Hardalias, presided over a ceremony to award the pilots of the Italian and Spanish water-dropping airplanes that assisted Greek aircraft last week in efforts to douse the blaze.

The ceremony was deemed particularly significant as it marked the first activation of the European Union’s rescEU program – aimed at enlisting the help of member-states to respond to wildfires and other natural disasters.

“Your contribution is active evidence of the common European principles of solidarity and the protection of the lives and property of European citizens,” Hardalias told the pilots, expressing his admiration for their efforts to tackle last week’s “difficult and dangerous fire.”

The blaze, which broke out on Tuesday, burned for three days, ravaging a total of 2,260 hectares of forestland. Firefighters’ efforts were hampered by strong winds and the fact that part of the blaze was located in an inaccessible ravine.

Discussion about the possible creation of a joint European fleet of Canadair firefighting aircraft has intensified since the idea was first mooted in the summer of 2017 by then European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in the wake of disastrous forest fires in Portugal.