archived on 2013/01/01

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Fighting forest fires

Fighting forest fires in Europe is an excellent example of European solidarity in action. The 27 Member states of the European Union and five participating countries (Croatia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) cooperate in the area of civil protection interventions.

The EU Civil Protection Mechanism is a tool that allows countries affected by an overwhelming emergency to request assistance: in case of an earthquake, for example, a country may request search and rescue teams, medical teams, shelters and water purification units. Assistance may cover all type of emergencies, including acts of terrorism, technological, radiological and environmental accidents and also forest fire.

Southern Europe is usually prone to forest fire during the summer season but this year's long dry spell with little rainfall has accentuated risk. Portugal, for instance, is facing a series of forest fires in the central part of the country. Through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, the Portuguese government asked for assistance and within a day, two Canadair firefighting aircraft from Spain were deployed to assist in the fire-fighting operations. Thanks to EU funding, another two aeroplanes from France have helped to tame the fires in Portugal.

Earlier this week, Slovenia landed to Albania a firefighting airplane for a 6 day mission. In July, in response to Montenegro's request for assistance, two firefighting helicopters from Croatia joined the firefighting operations in the affected area.

Maintaining an extensive flotilla of fire-fighting planes is expensive. But 70 planes might not be enough if you have 19 or more fires burning at the same time. Sharing capabilities allows European countries to respond massively and rapidly to control and extinguish fires. In this case, solidarity is not just an ideal, it is also rational.