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Europe

Southern European wildfires abate, but risk remains

Video by Florence VILLEMINOT , FRANCE 2

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-07-27

Firefighters in France, Italy and Spain have managed to quell the worst of the deadly fires that have ravaged the region, but the high temperatures and strong winds on the forecast could spark another flare-up of wildfires.

AFP - Firefighters have gained the upper hand against deadly wildfires that have swept across southern Europe over the past week, but sizzling temperatures and strong winds risked reviving the flames, officials said Monday
  
In France, Italy and Spain -- the worst affected countries -- most of the blazes were extinguished or under control although firefighters remained on alert.
  
Spain's Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said 90 percent of the country was on "maximum alert" for wildfires because of tinder-dry conditions.
  
"We are facing a bad day because of the heat and wind," he told reporters.
  
The national weather office issued an "orange" alert, its second-highest level, for eight Spanish provinces due to scorching temperatures of up to 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit).
  
The continued threat posed by weather conditions was underscored near the Spanish town of Las Hurdes where a blaze thought to be under control flared up overnight due to strong winds, forcing the evacuation of over 500 people.
  
More than 400 firefighters backed by 13 helicopters and four planes were battling the blaze, which has so far ravaged some 500 hectares (1,200 acres) of pine forrest and brush and which local officials believe was deliberately set.
  
"It is not possible that new flare-ups of the fire arise at the same time at three different places, nobody can understand it," said the president of the regional government of Extremadura, Guillermo Fernandez Vara.
  
In Greece firefighters took control of a blaze on the island of Zante that led coast guards to evacuate about 50 people from a beach late Sunday, although the region remained at risk from strong winds.
  
French firefighters battled a blaze which has raged since Thursday near Aullene on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, destroying 3,500 hectares of forest and bush.
  
Two Corsican farmers, aged 21 and 24, were sentenced Monday to prison terms after admitting to setting five fires in three villages in the Rapale area.
  
In Italy fires that claimed two lives last week on the island of Sardinia were largely under control Monday, while a blaze in a nature reserve in Sicily was still active, the civil protection service said.
  
Between 15,000 and 25,000 hectares of land have been devastated by the flames and, on Sardinia, initial estimates put property damage at around 80 million euros (114 million dollars).
  
In Spain wildfires have over the past week devastated over 20,000 hectares of land, killed six firefighters and gutted dozens of homes.
  
In the northeastern region of Aragon, the worst affected region with more than 11,700 hectares lost to flames over the past week, three fires were under control and firefighters were on the verge of getting the upper hand on three other active blazes, a regional government spokesman said.
  
Spain has already lost more land to wildfires so far this year than during all of 2008 when around 40,000 hectares burned, according to environment ministry figures.
  
Meanwhile wildfires which have ravaged nearly 4,000 hectares of land since Wednesday in Algeria, which is separated from southern Spain by the Mediterranean, have been brought under control, civil protection officials said.
  
The fires had been fueled by temperatures which soared to 47 degrees Celsius in some parts of the north African country but which have since eased slightly.

Date created : 2009-07-27

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