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IP/07/1257

Brussels, 27 August 2007

Greek fires: Commission reiterates its sadness and welcomes European solidarity

Seven fire-fighting Canadair planes supplied by France, Italy and Spain are currently helping Greece combat the devastating fires that broke out on Friday and have claimed at least 50 lives. Another Canadair from Portugal arrives today and offers for help are still coming in from the members of the Community Mechanism for Civil Protection coordinated by the European Commission. Nine specialised helicopters are also being despatched. This is the biggest offer of assistance to a Member State since the Mechanism was set up in 2001.

"I wish to express my sorrow at the number of victims and send my condolences to the Greek authorities and to the families concerned. I want to thank, personally, the Member States and other European countries that have contributed fire-fighting aircraft to help extinguish the devastating fires and sincerely hope that the situation will soon be controlled and no other lives lost," said Commission President José Manuel Barroso.

"It is a tragedy that so many lives were lost. It is also an ecological disaster of an unprecedented dimension with tens of thousands of hectares of habitats destroyed. And it will mean tremendous economic hardship for those who have lost their businesses and houses to the fires," said Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas whose department runs the service that is coordinating the European assistance.

He added: "My heart goes out to all those who are suffering from the consequences of this disaster. As soon as the fires are extinguished, efforts to restore the habitats and rebuild the areas destroyed must be undertaken immediately."

Five Canadairs - four French and one Italian - arrived on saturday to help fight the fires that have been devastating the southern regions of Greece, in particular the Peloponnese, the Peloponnese, but also in the Katyvia region, near the capital Athens. France has also dispatched fire-fighting brigades.

Another two Canadairs arrived on Sunday supplied by Spain (two) and one from Portugal will arrive today. All countries concerned have had to fight their own fires but none has been as badly hit as Greece this summer.

Germany, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Austria have also offered helicopters (three 5000litre helicopters for Germany, two Cougars for Netherlands; one 1000l helicopter for Slovenia and two Bell 212 helicopters plus Renzler water cointainers from Austria), all due to arrive in Greece by Monday or the day after. Austria is also despatching fire-fighting teams.

Greece on Friday asked the European Commission's Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) to request European partners to provide water-bombing aircraft to help fight the fires which have been affecting the country since the beginning of the summer but which have struck with particular violence in the last 48 hours.

Since the beginning of the summer, MIC has managed a total of 13 requests from assistance from six countries. The mechanism facilitates the provision of civil protection assistance both in and outside the European Union.

In its wish to further strengthen the civil protection system in Europe, the Commission together with Member States, has started developing the idea of setting up so-called response modules. These modules consist of readily-deployable, pre-defined specialised clusters of personnel and equipment. Eleven key modules have been identified, one of them being a forest fire-fighting module. These units or modules could expect an initiative early this autumn.


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