EU firefighters hailed as heroes in Chile

Chileans gathered at Santiago airport to bid farewell to a team of EU firefighters that have helped bring deadly wildfires under control. [DG ECHO/ Flickr]

Chile has thanked 180 firefighters from Spain, France and Portugal for their help in tackling fires that have swept across the South American country, after an EU scheme allowed their assistance to be requested by Santiago. EURACTIV Spain reports.

During a farewell ceremony, Foreign Affairs Minister Heraldo Muñoz praised the European contingent for their “dedication and spirit, which gave us strength”.

Their deployment was made possible by the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism, which was set up in 2001. It promotes cooperation between national civil protection authorities across Europe and is intended to help deal with disasters that either cross borders or are too much for just one country to handle.

The Mechanism includes the 28 member states, including Iceland, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey. But any country around the world can ask for assistance, as Chile did.

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“This form of fraternity is necessary in a time where protectionism is reemerging and walls are being built. You opened your arms to brotherhood,” the minister added.

A further 600 specialists and firefighters have arrived in Chile to fight the fires, which Muñoz called “an unprecedented contribution to our history”.

Panama, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia. Peru, Mexico, Venezuela and Japan have all benefitted from similar schemes.

Organisations like the United Nations and the Red Cross, as well as countries like Germany, China and South Korea have all contributed economically.

The head of Spain’s firefighting division, Vicente Franco, said “we arrived as friends and left as brothers”.

EU to strengthen natural disaster response

The Commission proposes strengthening the EU’s civil protection mechanism to assist European countries respond to floods, droughts, forest fires and terrorist attacks at home and abroad.

Chile has seen an unprecedented wave of wildfires over the last few weeks. Eleven people have died, 7,000 have been left homeless and more than 1,600 homes have been destroyed.

According to official figures, there have been 3,393 forest fires and nearly 600,000 hectares of land have been affected.

But the blazes have been relatively brought under control now and the government said of the 44 left, 41 are under control.