Drought and high temperatures: Swiss helicopters deployed to fight forest fires in Portugal

Press release, 24.08.2017

Swiss Super Pumas and their crews have been fighting forest fires together with Portugal's Civil Protection Agency since 21 August 2017. Since the start of their mission, the helicopters have made about 172 sorties and dropped over 325 tons of water. Earlier today, the Swiss Armed Forces dispatched another team of pilots and mechanics to the Monte Real air base. The Swiss Humanitarian Aid rapid response team is coordinating efforts with the authorities on the ground. If weather forecasts are accurate and no unforeseen events occur, the Swiss mission will end on 28 August 2017. Swiss Humanitarian Aid has overall responsibility for this operation and is working closely with the Swiss Armed Forces.

The joint team composed of members of Swiss Humanitarian Aid, a department of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and the Swiss Armed Forces is now in its fourth day of deployment. Two Super Puma helicopters have carried out dozens of flights since Monday to put out fires raging in several locations in Portugal. A third Super Puma is on stand-by in case one of the helicopters has to be grounded. The intense heat is putting the helicopters to a hard test.

This morning a Federal Air Transport Service aircraft took off from Bern Airport with additional pilots, mechanics and material to replace members of the team currently in Portugal.

Swiss team puts out fires and saves homes

The Super Pumas have put out fires in the regions of Marinha Grande, Porto de Mos, Viseu, and Souselo and Sertã, a considerable distance from their base in Monte Real, which is located 100km north-east of Lisbon. The situation on the ground is extremely unstable. New fires are breaking out every day as a result of the drought and high temperatures.

Since their arrival in Portugal, the helicopters have carried out 172 sorties and dropped over 325 tons of water (as at 7am on 24.08.2017). "This successful mission also shows how well Swiss Humanitarian Aid and the Swiss Armed Forces work together during emergencies abroad. By joining forces, we've been able to prevent the fires from reaching many inhabited homes," notes David Sochor, head of the rapid response team. The crews fly their daily missions from dawn to dusk.

Coordination with the Portuguese authorities

Each flight is accompanied by a member of the Portuguese Civil Protection Agency, who is responsible for coordinating efforts with the firefighters on the ground. "Combined with our team's professionalism and the helicopters' capabilities, this enables us to work very precisely and efficiently," notes Lt Col Lukas Meier, head of the Swiss Armed Forces detachment, with evident satisfaction.

The Swiss deployment is led by Swiss Humanitarian Aid, which is also responsible for coordinating efforts with the Portuguese authorities. Swiss Humanitarian Aid also provides operational support for the pilots, for example by finding out where the Super Pumas can refuel and refill their water buckets. Approximately 2,000 firefighters, 60 vehicles and 20 firefighting aircraft and helicopters are deployed day and night in the operation.

Meteorologists are forecasting slightly lower temperatures for the next few days, and possibly also scattered showers from the middle of next week. According to current planning, the Swiss Super Puma helicopters will therefore be deployed until 28 August, but the mission may be extended depending on how the situation develops.


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