Hundreds of wildfires have been burning in southern Europe for several days, gutting homes, destroying thousands of acres of woodland and killing eight people, six of them Spanish firefighters. Tens of thousands of hectares of countryside have been devastated in Spain, France, Greece, and Italy, and Agence France Presse reports that the insurance bill may run into hundreds of millions of euros. Thousands of firefighters were deployed to battle the fires that were fuelled by strong winds and temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius. Although firefighters made good progress in containing some of the fires over the weekend, conditions in some areas are expected to remain favourable for further outbreaks over the next few days.
Spain was the worst hit country as several blazes burned in eastern regions, charring at least 24,000 hectares (59,300 acres) of land over the past week and forcing thousands of people to evacuate their homes, officials said. Up to 20 fires were burning in Spain last week, but firefighters have made progress recently and reports said seven fires are still active, with some of the fiercest outbreaks in Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia close to being extinguished. Aircraft, including planes and helicopters, were used to fight the fires in the Aragon region, along with hundreds of firefighters.
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Six firefighters were killed in Spain while trying to tackle the fires. Four died while trying to contain a fire in the Els Ports national park near Tarragona in the Catalonia region. Elsewhere, a major fire at Sierra de Cabrera in Almeria Province forced 1,500 people to flee from their homes. Dozens of firefighters are currently battling a blaze that broke out on July 26, 2009 on farmland near the airport at Palma de Mallorca in the Balearic Islands, local officials said. The wildfire is threatening several homes but did not disrupt air travel at the airport, Spain’s third-busiest in terms of passenger traffic, they said. More than 15 people suspected of starting blazes are reported to have been arrested in Spain. Spain’s interior ministry said officials remain on maximum alert.
Wildfires have also hit parts of France. Twelve fires have destroyed some 15,000 hectares (30,000 acres) in the Mediterranean island of Corsica, including some of the area’s most spectacular forests in the south. More than 400 firefighters, supported by helicopters, were deployed to fight the blazes that threatened the town of Aullène. Reports said at least ten houses and about 50 cars were destroyed in the fires. French police are holding at least five people suspected of starting fires that ravaged Corsica. On the French mainland, meanwhile, the French army faced criticism after tracer fire used in a military exercise sparked a wildfire on the outskirts of Marseille.
In Greece, authorities are battling more than 50 fires that are being fanned by strong winds. The largest fire is raging unchecked on the island of Zakynthos. It trapped around 70 beach-goers, both Greek and foreign, who were evacuated by boats. Winds are expected to pick up in southwestern Greece, reaching up to 75 kmph (45 mph), leading authorities to warn of a high probability of more fires. Several other fires broke out in Greece last week, including in the southern Peloponnese and on the island of Evia, destroying forests and farms.
In Italy, firefighters were battling some 17 blazes in southern regions last week. On the island of Sardinia, around 25,000 hectares (60,000 acres) of land has been burned by a fire fanned by high temperatures and strong winds. On 26 July, firefighters extinguished four fires that had been burning on the island. Forest fires also raged on the southern Italian island of Sicily and in the mainland region of the Marche. However, Sardinia was the worst hit, with damage there alone estimated at €80 million (USD115 million), according to reports.
Sources: BBC News, CNN News, Associated Press, Associated Press, Agence France Presse, Reuters News
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