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Canadair pilots, technicians say people call them heroes - but they’re just doing their jobs

Canadair pilots and technicians working tirelessly to tackle the numerous blazes sweeping through Greece as wildfire season peaks say people call them heroes, but they are only doing their jobs.

Speaking to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) at the Canadair airbase at the Tactical 355 Squadron Air Force in Elefsina on Wednesday, Flight Lieutenant Michalis Chrysanthopoulos said the flames in Kalamos, a coastal town northeast of Athens, have destroyed everything.

"I flew this morning over Kalamos to throw water. Thankfully, things are much better. It was a small outbreak of fire and I threw water until it was put out. The whole area has been burned. There’s nothing left," he said.

These pilots are not just battling blazes around Attica but were also called on to throw water over multiple fires that burned the islands of Zakynthos and Kythera over the past few weeks.

Flight Lieutenant Ioannis Sedouxis spoke of his experience flying over the wildfire in Kythera.

"The most overwhelming moment for me in the fires of Kythera was when the flames reached and licked the walls of the monastery of Panagia Myrtidiotissa. I was listening to the fire-fighter coordinator on the wire who almost cried. That overwhelmed me," he said.

Sadouxis was seriously injured in his back in 2016 during a water drop over a large fire in Dervenohoria. "At the back of your head, you always think this can happen. But you never think it will happen to you"

Squadron leader Panagiotis Christopoulos said they never know what will happen during a flight. "When we get into the aircraft we don’t know if we'll get back. The whole family waits for a call during take-off and landing. Until then, it's the family who is worried. We leave it all behind. We have our work to think of," he explains.

Squadron commander Giorgos Mitratzas explained how difficult Canadair CL-215 flights are: "It’s not that they’re old [the planes]. It is mainly that the equipment is old. It would be good for the fleet to be renewed with newer aircraft technology, but we know that our country is going through difficult times. So, these are what we have, and these are what we have to fly with."

Despite the age of the firefighting aircraft, pilots trust them and their mechanics who maintain them in good condition. However they often malfunction and cannot fly for more than eight hours per day.

"After two operations of longer duration, three or three-and-a-half hour flight, they unfortunately break down and have to go for maintenance. This is known. We do all we can to maintain them and keep them in good condition," Mitratzas told ANA.

He also explains the technical difficulties of scooping up water and dropping it over a fire.

"We cannot scoop up water everywhere. We have to find the right spot in relation to wind and waves, but also when we are above the fire, often we cannot throw it due to turbulence created by the winds, in combination with the thermal currents formed by the fire," he says.

"Besides, the water drops are done based on what we see and our experience and not with an instrument. So we need to have good visibility to attempt [to throw water]," he added.

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