The first firefighting fleet within the new rescEU framework will be fully mobilised for the next forest fire season and will include seven aircraft and six helicopters.

“With rescEU we have an additional safety net in times of crisis. I am very proud that this summer, I see the European firefighting fleet becoming a reality. I would like to thank all the participating states that have contributed to this fleet without exception so that we are prepared in the best possible way for this year of fires,” said the Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides, in Brussels.

Stylianides said five EU members – all of which have been affected by forest fires in recent years – have put their planes and helicopters at the disposal of the rescEU fleet for 2019, including consists of two aircraft from Croatia, one aircraft from France, two aeroplanes from Italy, two from Spain, and 6 helicopters from Sweden.

Asked about Greece and whether the country can benefit from this mechanism, Stylianides stressed the importance of Greece’s participation, saying, Greece, which is “vulnerable” to natural disasters, can use European funds to increase its preparedness and prevention. He also noted that the European Commission’s experts are in constant contact with the Greek authorities in order to give advice and help Athens prepare for this year’s fire season.

However, Stylianides insisted that prevention and preparation, and especially the development of volunteer fire brigades to serve as first responders must become the norm in Greece. New techniques and logistical plans are also of key importance.

The European Commission is also strengthening this year’s monitoring and coordination capacity in preparation for the forest fire period. In particular, the Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC), the heart of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism that coordinates the delivery of assistance to the areas in need, now has a 24/7 operational capacity and will be reinforced during the summer with a forest fire support team consisting of experts from across the EU with the Copernicus satellite system, Europe’s GPS analogue, at their disposal.

Weekly videoconferences are also being organised between the 28 members of the bloc, which will take place throughout the summer, as part of an exchange of information about current fire risks across Europe.