Russia’s UTair sends helicopter to fight Greek fires

UTair, Russia’s largest helicopter operator, has sent a helicopter to Greece, where forest fires have been raging, an airline spokesman said Friday.

“The UTair airline [based in the Khanty-Mansi autonomy in the northwest Urals] has sent a Mi-26 helicopter with the crew to Greece to tackle major forest fires,” the spokesman said. The aircraft can carry 15 metric tons of water.

Greek firefighters reported over 100 new fires in 12 hours of Thursday alone, while earlier reports said up to 40,000 hectares of woodland had burned down in the country so far this summer.

The Greek Prime Minister Konstandinos Karamanlis requested Thursday extra assistance from Russian aircraft in extinguishing forest fires, which have developed into a severe threat in the country.

Viktor Beltsov from the Russian Emergencies Ministry said a group of two planes and three helicopters would be sent to Greece Friday, including an Il-76 tanker aircraft that can carry 42 metric tons of water.

The “water bomber” returned last weekend from a firefighting mission in neighboring Bulgaria, where it released over 400 metric tons of water on fires near Stara Zagora, in the central part of the country, Saturday.

The Achaias region in the north of the Peloponnesus peninsula was hit hardest. Forest fires stretched over an area of 40 kilometers (25 miles) there Thursday morning, killing four people. Half of a village was burned down in the same region.

Hundreds of tourists were evacuated in Cephalonia in the Ionian Sea, where it was impossible to extinguish fire until the sea stopped it. Up to 4,500 hectares of forest burned down.

The situation improved slightly late Thursday, with temperatures falling from 45 degrees Centigrade (113 degrees Fahrenheit) to 39 degrees Centigrade (102.2 degrees Fahrenheit). The heat is expected to subside over the weekend.

Thousands of firefighters and over 600 servicemen are currently tackling the fires in Greece. The Greek air fleet, which has 17 Canandair tanker jets, has recently been handling non-stop flights during the daytime. The arrival of the Russian aircraft should render substantial assistance to Greece.

Scorching weather has caused large-scale forest fires throughout the Balkan Peninsula this summer, with fires also reported in Bulgaria, Italy and Macedonia. Meanwhile, Britain has seen unprecedented floods.

UTair, one of the global leaders in the helicopter business, has a pool of 180 helicopters, including over 20 Mi-26s, aircraft with the world’s highest cargo capacity, capable of carrying 20 metric tons.
Source: RIA Novosti

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