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The nightmare repeats itself every year: A towering wall of flames devours forests, farmland and homes, forcing animals and people to flee for their lives. With their hot, dry summers, Greece and its southern European neighbors experience hundreds of devastating wildfires each year.
A group of residents in a leafy suburb of the Greek capital united in determination to prevent the nightmare from reaching their homes. In less than a week in early August, an initial group of three people with a shared concern grew to an online community of about 320 offering donations to hire a company using long-range drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras as a sophisticated early warning system to catch wildfires before they can spread. It’s a tried and tested system.
Designed and set up with the help of Grigoris Konstantellos, a commercial airline pilot and mayor of the southern Athens seaside suburbs of Vari, Voula and Vouliagmeni, the drones began operating there last year.
“We didn’t discover it, we created it,” Konstantellos said of the program.
Operated by drone pilots with advanced training to fly beyond the visual line of sight and with permission from civil aviation authorities, the drones provide live images and detect changes in temperature, alerting their handlers in the critical early stages before a fire spreads. The drones run 24/7, with pilots working in six-hour shifts.
“With this drone program, the positive thing is that we don’t waste time to inform the center to do the mobilization,” said Giorgos Dertilis, who heads the local volunteer firefighting unit.
“It means that we have the view of exactly the drone and because we are integrated into the planning of the Fire Department through the radio, we can automatically inform where there is smoke or fire and whether we go to control or extinguish depending on what it is,” Dertilis added.
Volunteer units are integrated into Greece’s Civil Protection system, working closely with professional fire departments. With no fire station in the wider Kifissia area, volunteers often can get to local blazes faster. The drone company operates from the volunteer firefighters’ headquarters, so they can react immediately at any signs of a fire.
This article was provided by The Associated Press.