This summer in Europe turned out to be extreme hot resulting in an unusual draught normally accompanied by large-scale forest fires. They enveloped vast territories of Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Italy and France bringing high death toll and damage to economies amounting to hundreds of millions of Euro. In Greece alone, the number of fires reached two thousand by late July and according to the Minister of Public Order Viron Polydoras, 26 thousand to 32 thousand hectares of forest were burned down.
The stubborn struggle against fires normally takes place in mountainous out-of-the-way areas with unprecedented temperatures (the temperature in central Athens is often well over 40 degree Celsius).
The local fire brigades, army units and numberless volunteers fail to contain unimaginably great number of forest fires despite their efforts. The Greek police evacuate the people from the fire-stricken mountainous villages but many people refuse to leave their homes being scared of looters.
Rescuers face difficulties in fighting environmental disasters without having modern technical means of which the specialist aircraft plays a separate role. The aircraft has a number of undisputable advantages over the conventional fire-fighting means in a fast water delivery to the fire source, efficient water bombing, independence of approach roads, relatively high safety.
Out of many various helicopters used in fire-fighting, the most efficient is the Mi-26T of its sole manufacturer, the Rostvertol plc. It is this aircraft that is capable of airlifting bulky cargos and machinery weighing up to 20 tonnes both inside and as an external load. Its multiple function and unique cargo bay volume of 120 cubic metres are very useful in extraordinary situations when it’s a matter of minutes.
Today, seven Mi-26Ts owned by local companies and governmental agencies of Russia and Belarus are fighting the raging element in various regions of Greece.
These helicopters are equipped with fire-fighting systems including the VSU-15A water bucket, satellite navaids, radios for communication with ground-based fire brigades. The VSU-15A water bucket is a 15-cubic-metre container designed to be filled with water within thirty seconds.
The Mi-26Ts are used to fight the raging fires both on the islands and in the mainland, so they take water from the sea and fresh-water bodies close to the fire.
Because of the present situation, a state of emergency was declared in some regions of Greece Last July only, the fire-fighting helicopters have flown 650 hours, the double of the last year, and more than two hundred sorties, - so the Minister Polydoras. The intensive use of helicopters and the disaster scale are evidenced by the fact that 115 fires were killed within one day in around Athens by an aircraft unit that included unique Mi-26Ts.
8 to 10 hours a day stay the Mi-26Ts that arrived in Greece airborne. The most maintenance of these helicopters is carried out at night because of 30-minute availability during the daytime. To each aircraft coming from Russia and Belarus a local coordinator is attached for immediate liaison with the Greek flight operation officers.
The Mi-26T owned by the Ministry of Emergency Management of Belarus departed for Greece on the 14th of June and its record by the early July contained 56 flight hours. This aircraft bombed 2.75 thousand tones of water during its mission.
The Russian Mi-26T flew to Greece on the 25th of July 2007 to effectively counteract large-scale forest fires. According to Victor Beltsov, an official of the Russian Ministry of Emergency Management, the aircraft is positioned at the airbase Elevsina of the Hellenic Air Force nearby Athens.
But being aware of the actual disaster scale and unprecedented weather, the Greek government pleaded for an immediate Russian help.
In a telephone conversation the Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis asked the Russian President Vladimir Putin for more aircraft to fight fires beyond control in some areas of the country. Vladimir Putin directed the Russian Ministry of Emergency Management to send five specialist aircraft to Greece: Ilyushin IL-76TD, multi-purpose Beriyev Be-200 TchS amphibious aircraft, Mi-26T and Mi-8 helicopters. So, the Russian fire-fighting aircraft unit in Greece will be enhanced.
At present, the situation with forest fires in Greece remains complicated. Thousands of firemen and more than six hundred military are involved in fire battle countrywide. The Greek fleet of 17 Canadair Flying Tankers is operating continuously throughout the day. And the arrival of the Russian aircraft unit will seriously help Greek firemen fight fires, especially with tens of tones of water that could be taken on board by heavy planes and rotorcraft.