Greece's wildfires are declared as EU's largest on record

The European Commission rescue program (rescEU) helped control the largest wildfire that blazed in parts of Greece on August 20.
Shubhangi Dua
The aftermath of wildfires in Greece in Alexandroupolis and Evros regions
The aftermath of wildfires in Greece in Alexandroupolis and Evros regions

Ayhan Mehmet/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images 

Rising global temperatures due to climate change have led to heatwaves and wildfires in different parts of the world, notably since June 2023.

In July and August, wildfires spread across Greece, particularly near Dervenohoria, located 19 miles north of the capital city of Athens. These fires, as reported by Interesting Engineering last month, were difficult to control and caused people to evacuate their homes.

Now, the EU recently announced on August 29 that Greece has experienced the largest wildfires among EU countries. 

Multiple assets deployed

To tackle the wildfires in the country on August 20, the EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre deployed 11 firefighting planes and one helicopter from the rescEU reserve, stationed in six member states.

Additionally, six European countries contributed six ground forest fire fighting teams under the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, according to the statement. 

The Commission also determined that over 81,000 hectares of land was found to be burnt in Greece’s Alexandroupolis region. This marked the most extensive wildfire since 2000, when the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) began recording data.

RescEU operation was established to respond to health emergencies by the European Commission as part of its EU Civil Protection Mechanism. It’s equipped with a fleet of firefighting planes and helicopters, medical evacuation planes, and a stockpile of medical items and field hospitals. 

Currently, the rescEU reserves are being molded to respond to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) risks as well. 

RescEU controlled the raging fires

Janez Lenarčič, Commissioner for Crisis Management, stated:

"We stand in solidarity with Greece as it battles the devastating wildfires. The European Union's largest aerial firefighting operation underscores our commitment to swift and effective collective action in times of crisis."

"Our thoughts are with the people of Greece, and we will continue working tirelessly to protect lives, property, and the environment. The EU's unity and cooperation are our strongest assets in overcoming these challenges," he added.

Since the commencement of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, the EU’s rescue team has had to mobilize 11 rescEU firefighting airplanes stationed in Croatia, Cyprus, France, Germany, Spain, and Sweden, one Blackhawk helicopter from Czechia, 407 firefighters and 62 vehicles from Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czechia, France Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia, the EU noted.

Special satellite mapping services were used by the EU’s Copernicus, which revealed 20 affected regions. The fire blazed through more than 810 square kilometers (310 square miles) – an area bigger than New York City, The Guardian emphasized.

The EU provided Greece with nine planes, 520 firefighters, and 117 vehicles in the wildfires that streaked the country last month. 

Balazs Ujvari, European Commission’s spokesperson, told The Guardian, “We do know that fires are getting more severe. If you look at the figures every year in the past years, we are seeing trends which are not necessarily favorable, and that calls for, of course, more capacities at the member states’ level.”

The EU Civil Protection Mechanism aims to further control and aid disasters caused by climate crisis. So far, the project has proven essential in the recent explosion in Romania where 12 severely burnt patients were transported to Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Norway.

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