The European Commission will reinforce Cyprus’ firefighting fleet with two aircraft this summer, amid increased risks of forest fires, it announced on Tuesday.

In a briefing to journalists, the commission said the two aircraft (Air Tractor type) will be leased to Cyprus again this year, but with costs covered by the EU.

According to Head of Communication of the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), Zacharias Giakoumis, the Commission’s mechanism will start covering the lease costs of the two aircraft on June 15.

This will run until October 30, as predictions point to a hot summer in the South-Eastern Mediterranean region with above-average temperatures.

With increased risk of forest fires, Giakoumis specified that if the aircraft are needed by another EU member state, and Cyprus activates assistance to other countries through the mechanism, these aircraft may be moved to assist in firefighting.

Cyprus has activated the mechanism eight times since 2016 and has since then helped in 16 operations through the mechanism to other countries.

Assistance is not only given to EU countries but also to other countries such as Canada, when it suffered major wildfires that burnt around 18.8 million hectares of forest land.

Giakoumis noted that the biggest activation of rescEU was last year in the fires in Evros, Greece.

He added that 2023 was the hottest year ever recorded, in which about 500 million hectares were burned, an increase of 32 per cent from the average hectares burned since 2006. Of this burnt land, more than two thirds were in Greece (175,000), Spain and Italy.

Last year 24 out of 27 EU countries were affected by fires, while Greece and Cyprus requested assistance from the Mechanism twice. Notably, last year Germany requested fire-fighting assistance for the first time.

In Cyprus, in 2023, 2,000 hectares were burnt in fires, while ten fires had broken out. The commission counts fires after more than 30 hectares of land are burnt.

Referring to the European Civil Protection Mechanism, Giakoumis said that this year it will contribute with support to member states with 28 aircraft (24 aircraft and 4 helicopters), while in 2022 the Mechanism provided only 13 aircraft.

This summer, 28 planes and 4 helicopters will be made available to Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Croatia, France, Portugal and Spain, in addition to Cyprus and Greece.

He also said that this year, for the third consecutive year, the presence of firefighters who will be based for the summer season in France, Greece, Portugal and Spain is being expanded and consolidated. In particular, the number of these firefighters is 550 this year, and in Greece there will be between 200 and 240 firefighters.