EU to send planes to help contain Greek fires

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The European Union will send four firefighting aircraft to Greece to help the country tame a series of blazes raging across the country amid hot summer temperatures, Greek officials said Thursday.

Athens had asked the EU for six aircraft to complement its own fleet given the "high level of alert" caused by the fires, including one particularly severe blaze in the northeast, Greece's civil protection bureau said in a statement.

France and Spain have committed to send two planes each and EU officials have asked Portugal and Italy to help meet the full request, the statement also said, adding that the first four planes are set to arrive in Greece Friday.

The forest fire has forced authorities to declare a state of emergency in the Evros area, which borders Turkey.

Civil protection officials have also begun preparing evacuation plans for the Evros area, as the situation could deteriorate with temperatures expected to rise and persistent strong winds.

So far, no homes have been affected but the fire that started Wednesday has already destroyed thousands of hectares of forest, according to preliminary estimates.

While the situation in Evros remains the most serious, firefighters are also trying to contain potentially ominous blazes near Mesolonghi in the central-west of the country, as well as a fire further east in Aitolocarnanie and another on the island of Zante.

One firefighter died Monday after getting trapped by flames in the southern Peloponnese peninsula.

A report published last month by the Greek institute of agricultural research said more than 10 percent of Greek territory was devastated by forest fire from 1983 to 2003.

The country has seen an average 1,465 forest fires per year, the report said.

One of the most serious fires in Greece took place in 2007, when 77 people died and 250,000 hectares were ravaged, mainly in the Peloponnese and the island of Euboea.

© 2011 AFP

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