The Spanish army’s fight against the fires: from the fires in Turkey to those in Greece | International

Pilot Captain Reinaldo Fernández Boyero, of the 43rd Air Force Group, receives instructions by telephone at Dalaman Airport (Turkey). Behind, an Azerbaijani firefighting plane is also involved in the extinguishing work.Andres Mourenza

From the Sandras Mountains, whose peaks rise to 2,250 meters above sea level, a long white cloud rises, stretching in a straight line over Lake Köycegiz and the Dalyan Delta until it fades over the Mediterranean Sea , about twenty kilometers to the south. . It’s smoke. Suddenly a thunder brooooooooommmm it fills the air of Köycegiz and tourists pull out their cell phones to see how a potbellied red and yellow plane over the lake, fills its metallic belly with water, quickly takes flight again and gets lost among the peaks. At the controls of the aircraft, one of the corsairs – as these pilots are called – from the 43rd Air Force Group of the Spanish Army who have been working since August 2 to put out the fires in Turkey.

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“We were sent there in response to a request for assistance made by Turkey through the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism, in particular the RescEU initiative,” explains Lt. Col. Vicente Franco, head of the group. . The Spanish contingent deployed in Turkey is made up of 22 soldiers from the 43rd Group and 5 from the Emergency Military Unit (UME), two CL-415 amphibious planes and a C-295 transport plane.

“Estamos haciendo unas nueve horas diarias de vuelo y llevamos acumuladas más de 200 descargas de agua”, narrated el piloto y capitán Reinaldo Fernández Boyero: “Estamos trabajando en el incendio de Köycegiz, que no está controlado, y ahí es donde se están concentration the efforts. The previous days we were working in the Milas area to protect a power plant that was nearby [del incendio]”.

This is a complicated task due to the orography of the region: the Taurus mountain range, which marks the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, is made up of mountain ranges that rise almost from the sea itself and create steep valleys to deep valleys. “When they take on water in the lake, they have to climb 5,000 feet [1.500 metros]. The heat is very intense and the planes are operating at the limit. The temperature inside the plane in action exceeds 50°C, although the cooling system in the cabin allows it to be reduced to 35°C. , while a mechanic finishes checking it and making final adjustments before heading back to the mountain.

These are huge fires that they are not used to. For example, that of Köycegiz destroyed more than 11,000 hectares and that of Milas, 17,000, twice as many as the largest fires recorded in Spain in the last decade. “These are mountains with very lush vegetation. Vegetation that is used to a certain climate and if that climate changes and there are periods of great water stress due to the lack of rain, then it becomes a very powerful fuel,” explains Commander Juan Ramón Martínez Borrego: “And if you combine that With these high temperatures and this orography which generates very strong winds on the hillside, it is very dangerous.

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As if it were a premonition, a few hours after saying this, the alarm went off: just in front of the airfield where the Spaniards were installed, a fire was lit which, in a few minutes, climbed through the pines to the crest of a mountain. Fortunately, being so close to the base of operations, the helicopters begin to drop water on it and the fire trucks attack it within hours.

Besides Spain, a dozen countries have sent aid to Turkey. This gives rise to the curious situation that countries fighting each other elsewhere – Russia and Ukraine, Israel and Iran – now share the same sky and the same mission. This poses another challenge: several types of aircraft must be coordinated — tanker aircraft, amphibious aircraft, helicopters of different categories, remote-controlled drones — each of a different model, which requires different components and spare parts and which, moreover, are piloted by pilots who speak different languages. The task falls to the Turkish captain, Mahmut Okudan, and his team. Installed in a small room at the airport of Dalaman, they receive on their screens the signal of each plane and aerial images of the fires, and distribute the coordinates with the objectives that each must undertake. “It’s complicated with so many different models, but the important thing is to use them effectively,” he says.

“The ideal is to combine by ability. Large tanker aircraft like the Ilyushin The Russians can throw around 10,000 liters of water, but since they are powered by turbines, they go very fast and have to fly higher for safety reasons. They are used to cool larger areas before the arrival of fire or for simpler terrain”, explains Commander Martínez Borrego: “On the other hand, our devices have a lower capacity, around 6,000 liters, but being propellers, they can fly slower. better adapt to the terrain. And being amphibians, they can recharge with water in the lake or in the sea without returning to base, allowing them to discharge up to 14 times a day. Helicopters have less capacity, but they are the most surgical as they fill your basket [de entre 200 y 5.000 litros] and they throw it just at the required point. The important thing is to take advantage of the mobility of air assets to facilitate the task of personnel on the ground and provide them with support, because in the end a fire goes out on the ground”.

The Spanish army does not know how long the mission will last, but given that there are only two active fronts left in Turkey and that the Athens government has requested EU assistance, it has been decided to split the detachment in two and send one of the planes to Greece. Captain Fernández Boyero is among those designated to travel to the neighboring country: “The situation there is the most worrying because it seems that the emergency services are overwhelmed.” On his pilot’s suit, he wears the patch with the symbol of the unit — an airplane in the shape of a seal — and its motto: “Turn off… and let’s go!”. Although in this case it means leaving to continue putting out fires elsewhere.

Lieutenant Pilar Martín: icon of firefighting in Turkey

If we use the number of entries in ekşi sözlük – a kind of Turkish collaborative digital encyclopedia – as an indicator of popularity, the Spanish lieutenant Pilar Martín is more popular than many Turkish characters. In just 72 hours, he added seven definitions from different users, all very positive.

It’s all down to a photo of him at the controls of the plane giving a thumbs up after returning from a mission, which has become an icon of firefighting in Turkey. On Saturday, the Twitter account of the Spanish Embassy in Ankara posted the image followed by another post about Turkey’s Sabiha Gökçen, considered the world’s first combat pilot. And practically all the Turkish media have spoken of Lieutenant Martín and are full of praise for “the Spanish pilot”, a symbol of the “heroes” who are working to put out the fire.

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