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29 Jul, 2007 18:43

More Russian water-bombers in Greece dousing fires

Additional Russian firefighting aircraft have arrived in Greece to help put out wildfires still burning across the country. The blazes which started during an intense heat wave prompted the country's Prime Minister to ask Moscow for help.

Russia came to the rescue by sending more aircraft. With many parts of Greece still on fire, a Russian-made BE- 200 amphibious jet  arrived to help in the water-bombing missions. The pilot says it’s an efficient fire-fighter.

“We take off, collect water from the sea and go to drop it off on the affected area. Afterwards,  we do a survey flight to see where the fires are at their worst and begin to intercept them. We drop the water off from 40 to 50 metres,” Igor Polunin, pilot, explained.

On Thursday, an SOS call came from the south-western town of Aegio. The mountains nearby were ablaze. Russian helicopters rushed to the scene. But, despite efforts to control the flames, thousands of hectares of forest were destroyed, turning from a lush green to blackened charcoal in hours.

An inferno tore through the vast mountainous area. With arid soil and the scorching sun, the fire spread rapidly. Russian helicopters helped tackle the blaze, dropping water bombs to douse the flames. But for many villages it was too late.

This was one of the worst forest fires Greece has ever seen. Parts of villages wiped out, buildings turned to rubble, and hundreds of residents left homeless. Greek resources have been stretched to the limit, trying to tackle simultaneous fires throughout the country.

As the Greek Interior Minister inspects the BE-200 plane, he says he’s grateful for Russia’s help.

“We do recognise this generosity and gesture of good-will on behalf of President Putin and I announce it in public,” Greece’s Minister of Public Order, Byron Polidoras, stated.

Russia’s mission is to help relieve the burden for the Greek fire-fighters. They’ve been working non-stop and are suffering from fatigue. Russia says it’ll do what it can. Its crews are experienced in fighting fires around the world.

“This plane has been used in Portugal, Italy and Indonesia as well as inside Russia and the outcome had positive results,” Eygeny Sedyh, Captain of the Russian fire-fighting crew, assured.

The Russian fleet will be based in Greece for a month, lending a helping hand, until the fire season is over.