On Saturday evening, Portugal requested European civil protection assistance to help combat the forest fires raging in more than 50 places across the country. The request triggered a rapid response from the Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) of the European Commission. The MIC immediately alerted the civil protection authorities of the 30 countries participating in the Community Civil Protection Mechanism. Within less than 24 hours, Portugal received additional fire-fighting airplanes and helicopters from several European Member States, significantly increasing its domestic response capacities.
According to recent estimates, a total area of 114,000 hectares has been lost to the flames in recent weeks. Faced with unfavourable weather forecasts threatening to deteriorate further the situation, the country called upon Europe to supply additional fire-fighting amphibious aircraft and helicopters. The request was sent to the MIC of the European Commission on Saturday 20 August 2005, at 20h43. The MIC immediately forwarded the call for assistance to its network of civil protection authorities in the 25 Member States and the five other countries participating in the Mechanism (Bulgaria, Romania, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway). Within a few hours, several countries were already able to offer assistance to Portugal:
France: 2 Canadair CL 415 water bomber aircraft. The planes left France on Sunday for Portugal.
Italy: 1 Canadair CL 415 aircraft. It left for Portugal on Sunday afternoon.
Germany: 3 Puma helicopters, scheduled to arrive on Monday 22 August 2005.
Spain: one supplementary Canadair CL 415 (in addition to ongoing bilateral help)
A few other countries are in the process of mobilising support. These additional means complement Portugal’s national capacities and enable the country to intensify its efforts to combat the forest fires.
The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, is in Portugal and has been following the situation closely. He said “I welcome the speed with which the Commission and member states have been able to respond to the urgent request for help from the Portuguese government.”
Commenting on the generous and efficient response from the Member States, Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “The immediate reaction from the Member States is very positive. It is a most powerful demonstration to our citizens of the benefits of European cooperation and of the importance of mutual assistance in times of need. The Commission’s Monitoring and Information Centre has demonstrated its capability to react quickly and efficiently, underscoring the efforts at EU level taken to strengthen civil protection cooperation.”
The EU’s assistance intervention in Portugal builds on experience gained from a broad range of previous disasters, including forest fires in France and Portugal (2003, 2004), the tsunami in South Asia (2004), and, most recently, the floods in Romania and Bulgaria (2005).
The European Commission recently made proposals to further strengthen civil protection cooperation at EU level, including specific proposals to ensure the availability of additional civil protection means – such as aircraft – in the event of major emergencies. Commissioner Dimas recalled these proposals and stated: “I am confident that the Member States will support our ideas and take this opportunity to translate their solidarity commitment into further action. We should not wait for another disaster before strengthening our system.”
Please also see MEMO/05/136 and IP/05/1050 on this subject.