October 18, 2021

Aerial Firefighting Conference in Athens, Greece, Addresses International Concern


This year Northern California experienced a wildfire siege with a record number of more than 2000 wildfires burning at one time. Firefighters from local, county, state and federal fire agencies deployed thousands of firefighters, and hundreds of firefighting aircraft to battle the wildfires.


Aerial Firefighting Conference in Athens, Greece, Addresses International Concern

Two CL-415 “Super Scooper” aerial firefighting planes are stationed at Van Nuys airport from Septembe1 through December 31 each year, on lease from the Canadian Province of Quebec to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

The first ever Aerial Firefighting (AFF) Conference was held October 21 and 22 at Athens, Greece. Delegates from firefighting agencies, research institutions, wildfire chemical companies, and aircraft manufacturers gathered at the Olympic Hotel. More than 24 presentations were offered during the two-day conference.

The keynote address was presented by Prof. Dr. Johann Goldhammer, Director, Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC), Germany. Goldhammer’s presentation, Wildland Fires in the 21st Century: Trends and Challenges for International Cooperation in Fire Management, provided an overview of the challenges facing countries where wildfires are now a major threat.

In Greece, for example, a large population has moved from rural communities to urban centers leaving behind land that was traditionally agricultural and forested. When the agricultural lands and forests are left untended the potential for wildfires throughout the country becomes high.

Aerial Firefighting Conference in Athens, Greece, Addresses International Concern

Jacques Behrer (left), one of the pilots of the Super Scooper aircraft with Tony Morris, founder of the Wildfire Research Network, an organization he started in Topanga which is dedicated to fighting wildfires with aerial firefighting aircraft.

Last year 67 persons perished in wildfires throughout Greece. Many wildfires were intentionally set in order to destroy forests so that landowners could then build on their property. Organizers of the conference presented the AFF conference in Athens because of the wildfire threat that Greek firefighting agencies deal with every year.

Although representatives of the Greek government were invited to the conference they did not attend despite repeat calls to government officials by conference organizers. Several days before the start of the conference the Greek military, citing security concerns, announced that there would be no demonstrations of firefighting aircraft, fixed wing or helicopters, at a nearby military airfield.

The AFF conference was an excellent opportunity for wildfire experts, firefighting aircraft manufacturers, pilots and fire agency administrators from Australia, Canada, the United States, Korea, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Greece, Italy, Japan, Poland and Belgium to meet and share information on recent developments in aerial firefighting.

A major exhibitor at the AFF conference was Irkut Corporation, makers of the Be-200, a twin jet, high-wing, water-scooping aircraft that scoops 3000 gallons of sea water or fresh water. Ekaterina Maximova, Regional Director for Irkut, said the multipurpose amphibious jet is now undergoing European Aviation Certification with Irkut’s partner European Air Defense Systems (EADS). Maximova said certification could be completed in early 2009.

The Be-200, which looks like an aircraft from a James Bond film, has experience fighting wildfires in southern Italy and France. In 2005, U.S. government officials observed the Be-200 performing flight demonstrations in the Baltic Sea.

Irkut’s Maximova said the company wants to demonstrate the aircraft in the U.S. after European Aviation Agency Certification is completed. The aircraft could be flown into the U.S. under a temporary transit permit. Locations for flight demonstrations have not been determined but water sources in Los Angeles County would be a logical choice.

Georgios Maridakis, an aeronautical and mechnical engineer and Technical Director with Skorpion International Services, said Skorpion, an exhibitor at the AFF conference, works with EMERCOM (Ministry of Russian Federation for Civil Defense, Emergencies and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disasters). Skorpion handles placement of the all-weather heavy-lift MI-26 helicopter that drops 15 tons of water or fire retardant on wildfires. Skorpion also coordinates leasing of heavy-lift Russian helicopters that are deployed throughout Greece. These aircraft are not available in the U.S.

Shane Fitzsimmons, Commissioner of the New South Wales (NSW) Rural Fire Service (RFS) and Chief Superintendent Maryanne Carmichael, Manager of Aviation, represented the largest volunteer fire service in the world. More than 70,000 volunteer firefighters fight bush fires over an area of 198-million acres.

In his presentation, Commissioner Fitzsimmons discussed a high-tech system that provides NSW firefighters with the ability to process data from a bush fire onboard an aircraft and downlink it via satellite to the NSW network for immediate use by the Incident Management Team.

The images can be layered over other maps, either topographical or aerial photographs, to determine what assets are at risk. The NSW system has a 24-hour capability available day and night. U.S. firefighting aircraft needs updated situational awareness capability such as the NSW system.

Representing the U.S. Forest Service at the AFF conference, Tom Harbour, Director Fire and Aviation Management, reported on this year’s Northern California wildfire siege. More than 25,000 firefighters fought the wildfires, which burned 1.2 million acres.

Harbour reported that California is one of the worst areas for air quality already; fine particulate matter produced by wildfires makes it even worse. Over five million people were adversely affected by smoke from the Northern California wildfires. Harbour said the U.S. Forest Service is coordinating research on smoke-modeling systems with new tools that can forecast the impact of wildfire smoke.

The quality of presentations offered at the Athens AFF conference was excellent. The opportunity for fire agency administrators, firefighting pilots, aircraft manufacturers and equipment exhibitors to meet informally at the conference was a positive experience and provided the means to establish lasting relationships.

As one who researches wildfires, firefighting strategies and firefighting aircraft, I found the AFF Conference at Athens to be a profound experience. The conference organizers will present an American AFF Conference in Anaheim, California, on February 19 to 20, 2009. For complete details go online to www.tangentlink.com.