A forest blaze in Greece is officially the largest wildfire ever recorded in the EU, a European Commission spokesperson said this week.
The bloc has been mobilising nearly half its firefighting air-wing to tackle it, he added: eleven planes and a helicopter from the EU fleet have been sent to help extinguish the fire north of the city of Alexandroupoli, along with 407 firefighters, Balazs Ujvari said.
The EU calls on a fleet of 28 aircraft – 24 water-dumping planes and four helicopters – supplied by member countries to help battle blazes in the bloc and in neighbouring territories.
It is working on creating a standalone, EU-funded air wing of 12 aircraft that will be fully in place by 2030.
The EU’s civil protection service said the fire had burned more than 310 sq miles (810 sq km) – an area bigger than New York City.
“This wildfire is the largest in the EU since 2000, when the European Forest Fire Information System (Effis) began recording data,” the service said.
Greece’s fire service said the blaze was “still out of control” in the north-east region’s Dadia national park, a vital sanctuary for birds of prey.
Since it began on 19 August, the blaze has killed 20 people.
“We do know that fires are getting more severe,” Ujvari said. “If you look at the figures every year in the past years, we are seeing trends which are not necessarily favourable, and that calls for of course more capacities at the member states’ level.”
Greece has been ravaged by numerous fires this summer, which the government and experts attribute to the climate crisis.
Janez Lenarčič, the EU’s commissioner for crisis management, said the air deployment underscore the bloc’s commitment to swift and effective collective action in times of crisis.