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Ready or Not, Greece Braces for Wildfires Season: Equipment, Manpower 

ATHENS – After admitting shortcomings in dealing with fires the summer of 2022, and more deadly blazes in 2023, Greece is trying to prepare for what’s coming this year, fearing that climate change and heatwaves will bring more conflagrations.

The blazes last year were made worse by the failure of municipalities to clear woods and brush of dried materials that became kindling and helped spread them faster, no accounting of where state money went for the tasks.

Greek fire teams have used the time to try to prepare but the fire season came early this year, with dozens of blazes this spring testing their readiness and additional equipment, including water-dropping aircraft having been obtained.

“It’s actually already summer for us,” Fire Lieutenant Colonel Ioannis Kolovos told Euronew during a recent training exercise. “The truth is that the fire season has started prematurely and has been extended over the last five years.”

https://www.euronews.com/green/2024/05/02/summer-is-coming-and-the-torment-will-begin-greece-readies-itself-for-another-record-fire-

His 10-member elite fire crew from the 1st Wildfire Special Operation Unit has the gear – everything from chainsaws to special rakes, weather gauges, computer tablets and drip drip torches – to create backfires, the news report said.

This year, Greece is doubling the number of firefighters in specialized units to some 1,300, and adopting tactics from the United States to try and outflank fires with airborne units scrambled to build breaks in the predicted path of the flames, added the news site.

Crew members include forestry experts and firefighters with varied skills, many developed in training with colleagues in France, Spain and the United States.

“We can position ourselves in optimal locations that may be difficult to reach by foot and carry out fire suppression using various specialized methods,” Firefighter Dimitris ‘Jim’ Priftis said while assisting trainees near the sites of 2023 fires near Athens.

“Using water is no longer our main weapon against fires, it’s our tools,” he said. “We are taking a more scientific approach toward fires, measuring the humidity, the wind – it’s a more planned method.”

With European Union aid, Greece began a 2.1 billion euro ($2.26 billion) program to make over a disaster response capability that Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotaks admitted in 2022 was overwhelmed.

His New Democracy government has since then ordered more water-dropping aircraft, drones, fire trucks, training facilities, and an Artificial Intelligence-driven sensor network to detect early signs of smoke and flooding, much of which won’t come until 2025.

Fires burned an estimated 1,750 square kilometers (1,088 square miles) in 2023, including one in northern Greece that was the worst fire ever recorded in the European Union and killed 18 refugees in dense woods that crackled.

Greek firefighters face tough conditions with frequently high winds whipping flames, mountains, remote islands had to reach with equipment and unchecked unlawful construction of multiple units in rabbit warren-like development.

Vassilis Kikilias, the minister for Climate Crisis and Civil Protection said officials expect it will be another tough summer. “It will be a very difficult fire season, a very difficult summer,” he told the site. “We had a dry winter and fall temperatures lasting until December. So we’re facing the climate crisis head on,” he added.

Crews trained hard with exercises and training and had the advantage this time of a facility called Fire Dragon, a 1.2 million euro ($1.29 million) trailerused to simulate the inside of a burning building. Fire crews with heavy protective gear and oxygen tanks use it to practice close-quarter techniques and rescues.

“The firefighting maze helps firefighters in a dark environment, in an unfamiliar setting, in the presence of fire, to enter the area, investigate, possibly carry out a rescue and find a way out,” said Fire Lt. Col. Vrasidas Grafakos, a training center commander.

“It’s to train them effectively to be ready for building fires, for front-line activity.” That’s something they know will likely be coming, many past fires over the years said deliberately set to clear land for development, new construction then being allowed for profit.

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