Following up on President von der Leyen’s State of the Union speech in September last year, Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič announced the doubling of the rescEU aerial firefighting fleet for the 2023 wildfire season.
Mr Lenarčičmade the announcement while speaking at the recent 10th anniversary of the EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre.
rescEU firefighting fleet for 2023
The rescEU firefighting aircraft reserve now includes 24 fixed wing aircraft and 4 rotary wing assets from 10 EU Member States:
- Two medium scooping airplanes from Croatia
- Two light planes from Cyprus
- Two helicopters from Czechia
- Two medium scooping airplanes and one helicopter from France
- Two light planes from Germany
- Two medium scooping airplanes, two light planes and one helicopter from Greece
- Two medium scooping airplanes and two light planes from Italy
- Two light planes from Portugal
- Two medium scooping airplanes from Spain
- Four light planes from Sweden
In addition to the aircraft assets, Austria, Bulgaria, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia will be sending almost 450 firefighters to be prepositioned in France, Greece and Portugal.
Europe’s wildfire problem
Wildfires are a growing problem in Europe, with the 2022 season being one of the worst on record. The European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) recorded over 837,000 hectares of land burned in the EU in 2022, which is 86% more than the previous year.
The most affected countries were Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, and Greece.
There are a number of factors that are contributing to the increasing frequency and severity of wildfires in Europe. These include:
Climate change: Climate change is leading to hotter, drier summers, which creates ideal conditions for wildfires to start and spread.
Deforestation: Deforestation is removing trees that help to protect against wildfires by providing shade and moisture.
Human activity: Human activity, such as careless use of fire, can also start wildfires.
August 2022 rescEU activities
In August 2022, several devastating fires burned large areas of forest in and forced people to flee their homes. Following a request for assistance by France, the EU launched one of its largest emergency operations in the country.
Via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, the EU coordinated 6 firefighting planes from its rescEU fleet positioned in Greece, Italy, and Sweden. In addition, more than 400 firefighters with more than 100 vehicles from Austria, Germany, Poland, and Romania supported French first responders.
“Wildfires have become a pan-European concern. They gravely affect lives, livelihoods and the environment,” says Janez Lenarčič, Commissioner for Crisis Management.
“In total, 20 EU Member States recorded more burned areas than average in 2022. The wildfire risk expanded to areas that have not previously been exposed, moving well beyond the Mediterranean region. This increase in wildfires requires decisive and prompt action also at EU level.”
“I thank all the countries involved in boosting the EU’s response this wildfire season. At the same time, I call upon the Member States to also strengthen wildfire preventive action.”