Greece is battling the worst wildfires in decades. It is possible that 43 firefighters from Salzburg will be on their way to support Athens on Monday. By Sunday, it will be ascertained “how the task force arrived at the scene in time,” says Mike Liebrich, unit commander.
On Saturday afternoon, Athens said Athens had requested assistance through the European Civil Protection Mechanism, from the Ministry of the Interior, which coordinates international disaster relief. On Saturday, Greece was offered a group of volunteer firefighters from Salzburg for support. Greece accepted the offer that evening. 43 assistants from Salzburg may be on their way on Monday.
Interior Minister Karl Nehamer
“The images we are currently receiving from Greece are very shocking,” Interior Minister Karl Nehamer said. “So we have no doubts that we will stand by the Greek people in these difficult times.” The interior minister said he thanked the firefighters “who immediately agreed to rush to help the Greek emergency services”.
The approach must now be clarified
A total of 43 assistants from the Salzburg Volunteer Fire Brigade are currently preparing for a support mission. Eleven special vehicles called “combating wild forest fires with vehicles” will also be used. Volunteer firefighters may leave from Salzburg for Greece on Monday.
“Now we are on standby and yes, we can drive,” Mike Liebrich, commander of the Salzburg City Volunteer Fire Brigade and deputy head of Operation International Wildfire, told Salzburger Nachrichten on Saturday evening. But: “We are talking about a journey of 2,500 to 2,800 kilometers. If we need five days for this, then the task is meaningless.” Liebrich said several travel options are currently being examined. “If the Ministry of the Interior and the European Union Commission can organize a ferry transfer for us from Venice to Greece, things will look different again.” A decision will be made on Sunday.
Mike Librech, unit commander.
“The request came from the Federal Ministry of the Interior about whether we can help in Greece or North Macedonia at the beginning of the week. After clarification with the emergency services, we agreed at midnight on Friday,” state fire brigade commander Gunter Trinker says of his deployment. International disaster train deployments in Salzburg typically have a radius of 1,000 to 1,400 kilometres, “but we’re clearly going beyond that mark here,” says Trinker. In the current storm and flood situation, it is not easy to remove vehicles from the pond. “We’ve had intense weeks behind us.”
Trinker said that in recent years, volunteer firefighting teams in Salzburg have brought together international disaster operations, for example in Slovenia during freezing rain with widespread power outages and in Bosnia during a flood disaster.
136 firefighters aboard 43 vehicles from Lower Austria and Northern Styria have been working in Macedonia since Thursday. The country has also been hit hard by forest fires.
Firefighting pushes people to their limits
Fighting forest fires is pushing the people of Greece to their limits. Especially in the Peloponnese and on the island of Euboea, many citizens struggled with the flames because the work of the official rescue forces is currently still mainly focused on the fires in the densely populated north of Athens. Television footage showed dramatic scenes from all fronts of the fire.
On Saturday afternoon, dozens of men tried to protect the already evacuated town of Nemouta on the Peloponnese peninsula. State Radio and Television Corporation (ERT) showed them – equipped only with a garden hose – standing in front of meter-high fire walls. The tractors passed through thick smoke to save water. Fires that change direction in a matter of seconds as the wind rushes towards the place.
39 villages evacuated
So far 39 villages in Euboea have been evacuated, and on Saturday afternoon there were similar instructions for other villages via emergency SMS. To Proto Thema reports that the Greek coast guard will be ready to rescue people by sea if the land route is cut off by fire.
Several European Union and other European countries have already sent firefighting helicopters to Greece to combat the flames.
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