Veteran aerial firefighter says flames during Greece’s heatwave are as severe as he’s seen it

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An aerial firefighter from Liverpool Plains in NSW said the fires in Greece were among the worst he had ever seen.

Craig Patton has flown airplanes for 32 years and for the past decade has traveled regularly around the world fighting fires, including in the United States.

While in Greece, Mr Patton said it was common to fight three or four different fires while patrolling places like Tatoi, north of Athens.

“In fact, we are fighting these fires right in the middle of the suburbs,” he said.

“Unfortunately for us, that meant flying in temperatures of 47 degrees in maybe 30 to 40 knots of wind, which in aviation terms is a pretty difficult environment to operate.”

Mr. Patton regularly fought fires in densely populated areas.(Provided: Craig Patton)

Devastation in Greece

In August, thousands of people were evacuated from their homes as forest fires raged in Greece, which suffered its worst heat wave in more than 30 years.

The government blamed climate change and locals blamed the government for not doing enough.

Planes fly over the water with a large plume of smoke in the background.
Mr Patton said planes were most often used as the first line of attack.(Provided: Craig Patton)

Mr Patton said the conditions were incredibly dangerous and 60% of the time planes were the first line of attack.

He said ground crews had limited resources but were highly skilled.

“Their trucks are all old, their equipment is old, the hills they ride are amazing,” Mr. Patton said.

“It’s not uncommon to be on the side of a mountain slope that you really shouldn’t be able to climb and these guys are laying pipes and actively fighting the fire.”

Greece has experienced powder keg conditions this year, including periods of intense winds of 70 kilometers per hour.

An amphibious plane on the tarmac of an airport with a huge cloud of smoke behind it.
These single-engine amphibious devices were transported from Australia to demonstrate their firefighting capability in the fires of 2021. (Provided: Craig Patton)

New technology deployed

Mr. Patton was hired by an Upper Hunter company to transport a fleet of single-engine amphibious aircraft to Greece.

The planes of American design were tested for the first time by the Greek government.

Mr Patton said the contraption was like a converted crop sprayer with a set of floats, which was ideal for fighting fires in densely populated urban areas.

“Their [Greek fire authorities] the theory is to keep small fires small rather than trying to fight a larger fire once it has already started, ”Patton said.

Unlike Australia, where similar planes can fill up while flying over large bodies of water, Mr Patton said there are many obstacles in the water around the Greek islands.

He said the planes must give way to other water users, although they typically travel at speeds of at least 112 km / h.


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