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Forest Fires in Europe

21 August 2003


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Fires in Portugal and Spain
Several burn scars (charcoal to dark green) are visible were fires have caused about 1 billion Dollar in damages in Portugal in this NOAA-16 image from 20 August 2003.

Source: NOAA/ NESDIS

Fire-weather forecast for Europe

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tomorrow

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Fire Weather Index (FWI) forecast  for this week (left) and the predicted FWI total for next month (right) for Europe.
(Source: ECPC Fire Weather Index Forecast)

 

Forest Fires in Portugal and Spain: Update of Area Burned during the Fire Season of 2003

According to Dr. Jose Miguel Pereira, Principal Investigator, Cartography Centre, Tropical Research Institute, Portugal,  the total area burned in Portugal this summer (up until 18 August 2003) is 417.000 ha. The largest contiguous burned patch, resulting from the coalescence of various independent large fires is slightly bigger than 100.000 ha.
The recent statistical data from Spain (official release from the Ministry for Environment) show a total area affected by wildfires (up to 17 August 2003) of 99.863 ha.

According to the Promethée statisticcal database the forest area burned in Franc during this summer (up to 21 August 2003) is 15.832 ha.

Update of Spain´s Fire Situation (statistical data)

Update of Spain´s Forest Fire-Fighting Resources (including France and Portugal)

GFMC Media Release (in German, with fire statistical data for the Mediterranean region)

Media Highlights on Fire, Policies, and Politics

Satellite helps fight Portuguese fires
21 August 2003

European space agency satellites have been used to help fire fighters tackle the forest blazes in Portugal. Images showing the extent of the fires were sent to the Portuguese civil protection unit. They were captured by the Earth observation satellite Envisat and relayed via the telecommunications satellite Artemis. The satellite data link enables information to be sent in near real-time to a ground station near Rome. The image shows the effect of fires along the Tagus River, to the north east of Lisbon. It was provided by Envisat’s Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (Meris), one of 10 instruments on the spacecraft. Portugal was worst-hit by the forest fires which swept across Europe after weeks of drought and heat. The fires are now out, but large areas of forest have been devastated. It is the first time Artemis has been used to support an emergency request under the International Charter on space and major disasters. The European Space Agency is a member of the charter along with Argentina, Canada, France, India and the US. The charter was drafted to help co-ordinate international satellite resources for disaster relief. 

Source: BBC News

Fire-ravaged Portugal faces erosion
20 August 2003

The forest fires which have devastated large parts of Portugal could be followed by massive soil erosion, environmental campaigners say. Portugal was worst-hit by the forest fires which swept across Europe after weeks of drought and heat. Forestry officials estimated earlier in August that an area almost the size of Luxembourg had already been lost to the flames – around 215,000 hectares (531,000 acres). The fires are now out, but Portugal’s largest green campaign group says much of the damage is yet to come. “During the first rainfalls in the fall there will be a huge quantity of soil which will be dragged as sediment into bodies of water,” said Francisco Ferreira, the vice-president of Quercus quoted by AFP news agency. More than 12.5 million metric tons of topsoil will be eroded in the next year, the group says. Agriculture could be badly affected, and water supplies put at risk of pollution.  “If there are people who supply themselves with water from rivers and lakes, the quality of that water could be harmed if there is a strong rainfall which drags ash and sediment into it,” said Mr Ferreira. Quercus believes the final toll of lost woodland will be 250,000 hectares – with each hectare potentially shedding up to 50 tons of soil, it says. The fires in Portugal claimed at least 18 lives, and damage is estimated by the government at nearly one billion euros. Many farmers have lost crops, land and livestock, while others have lost their homes. The final fires – near Monchique in the south and Castelo Branco in central Portugal – were brought under control on Saturday. In Portugal’s previous worst year for fires, 1991, around 182,500 hectares were lost. Forest fires have raged across Europe during the long summer heatwave, as far north as Sweden and as far east as Russia. Firefighters in some countries, including Italy and Greece, have continued to battle blazes.

Source: BBC

No relaxation in Portugal forest fire areas
19 August 2003

Lisbon/Barcelona (AFP)  The end of the largest heat wave in Europe brought no relaxation in Portugal forest fire areas first. Hundreds of firefighters fought still against four large fires, from which two in the hinterland of the Algarve raged. Gusts of wind obstructed the work, however populated areas were not threatened from the flames. Also near Castelo Branco in the center  the fire-brigade fought against fires in pine forests further on. In Portugal so far at least 18 humans died by the fires. Since the beginning of the year 215.000 hectares, an area by the size of Luxembourg , was destroyed. In the northeast of Spain the motorway 7 to France was again released at the night, after a fire could be brought under control in the region around Gerona . In Croatia the fire-brigade fought on the third day in consequence on the island Hvar against a fire, which destroyed in the meantime 800 hectares forest. 

Source: Yahoo News

Swiss forest fires are under control
18 August 2003

Leuk (AP) In spite of some delicate moments the situation in the forest fire area near Leuk is under control now. A controversy was inflamed over the alerting of the helicopters after the fire outbreak. However it is to reckon for afforestation and protection devices on an expenditure of 10 to 15 million Franken. 

Four days after the fire started over 200 fire fighters and soldiers as well as six water helicopters were in operation in Leuk (Oberwallis). “The fire lines could be held, new fires are not up-blazed”, announced Gaston Oggier, mayor of Leuk and chief of the operations staff. The fire-fighting operations concentrated on Sunday on the treatment of tree roots. In the top of the slope therefor three water bassins were furnished with capacity by 10.000 to 30,000 litres and filled by helicopters. “The root treatments can persist still weeks”, said Oggier. Additional problems emerged on weekend because of tumbling trees. With arising wind fir-trees tumbled in series and  endangered the  fire fighters, the chief of the operations staff said. Meanwhile a controversy was inflamed over the alerting of the helicopters at the past Wednesday evening. “The helicopters were alarmed too late”, said Kreisfoerster (district forester) Viktor Bregy in an interview of the “Sonntagszeitung” and added: “the helicopters started the fire fighting operation 45 minutes after the discovery.” Oggier rejected this opinion. The fire alarm was released at 19.51 o’clock. At 20.06 o’clock  the Air Zermatt was alarmed . The first helicopter was at 20.17 o’clock in the air and at 20.22 o’clock in Leuk. Oggier rejected also the criticism Bregys because of the missing water reservoir. Above the satellite ground station in Leuk is a large reservoir. Second is on 1,300 meters height. The inhabited area is secured thereby. There are no water sources at the whole slope, therefor  no additional  water reservoir up to 2,000 meters height could be furnished. “Otherwise we have to build on all mountain summits in the Wallis water reservoirs”, said Oggier. The damage estimations of the specialists in the canton Wallis amount 10 to 15 million Franken for reforestation and the protection devices against falling rocks and avalanches, as Oggier continued to say. In addition approximately one half million Franken per day would come for the fire fighting operation. The town Leuk arranged a post office check account for donations (PC 19-1051-0). 

Source: Yahoo News

Homes evacuated by fire near Norfolk
18 August 2003

Caravans and homes were evacuated by police after a heath fire threatened properties. Strong winds whipped up flames on heath land at Eccles-on-Sea, Norfolk, sending the fire close to nearby properties. While firefighters tackled the fire, police evacuated homes in Beach Road as well as holidaymakers at a campsite. The fire was reported at around 2200 BST on Saturday and ambulances were soon on standby ready to deal with any casualties. However, Norfolk Police said the evacuation was very smooth and there were no injuries. The fire was brought under control about 0030 BST Sunday.

Source: BBC News

Portugal’s government has declared a “public calamity” in the Algarve, the country’s prime tourist region, after six days of forest fires there.

Having joined forces, the three main blazes have consumed vast areas of the region’s forested interior across five municipalities.

Firefighter in the Pincho forest, near Lagos People who have lost Algarve property can claim compensatio In some villages, residents fought fires by themselves, using sand or water from swimming pools, as firefighters were busy elsewhere.
Temperatures fell and humidity rose on Thursday, but strong winds are not helping.
Most fronts were calmer but there is still concern about those near Lagos and Silves.
The government has acknowledged the gravity of the situation by extending to Faro District the status of “public calamity”, already applied to most of the rest of the country.
People who have lost property can now claim compensation.
Meanwhile, a major fire in central Portugal has flared up again after being brought under control days ago. So far these year 215,000 hectares of forest have burned – an area about the size of Luxembourg.
The fires have now claimed their 16th victim – a fireman who died in hospital from serious burns.
Meanwhile, the head of the emergency control centre has admitted to “organisational errors” in the operation.
He blamed a lack of training among those in command, and noted that there’s never been a fire-fighting operation on this scale before. 
Source: BBC
Burning for Money

Forest fires raging in Italy have been made possible by a prolonged heatwave, which has left the landscape tinder-dry from north to south.

But few Italians believe the blazes have natural causes – increasingly they now blame criminal gangs.
A number of people have been arrested who are reported to have been paid to start fires on behalf of criminal interest groups.
In some cases, it is also suggested, the fires have been started by the people who are paid to put them out.
Experts give short shrift to the idea that hooligans and petty arsonists might be responsible.
“I don’t think that any Italian can seriously believe that there are 6,000-7,000 pyromaniacs who roam across Italy to start fires – it is obvious that there are people who do it because they have been commissioned,” Mario Moricone, head of the firefighters’ department, told Italian state television.

Eco-Mafia or small business?

According to a study by the National Forestry Corps, a majority of blazes are started by farmers and shepherds who want to gain new grazing and farmland.
But a growing role is believed to be played by the so-called Eco-Mafia, which controls a large share of Italy’s rubbish disposal business.
The Eco-Mafia has an interest in starting forest fires because it aims to win public contracts for the reforestation of the affected areas – an operation that costs public coffers some 2,000 euros per hectare.
By doing so, it also creates new space for illegal dumps – a cheap way of getting rid of toxic and industrial waste.
Turin Attorney General Giancarlo Caselli, speaking at an environmental conference in Tuscany on Monday, said: “If there is some dirty money to be made, the Mafia is always first in line.”
The former head of the National Forestry Service, Giuseppe Di Croce, has blown the whistle on an equally disturbing scenario.
He believes that government plans to boost the number of water-bombing aircraft – possibly setting up small fire-fighting fleets for each region – could be counterproductive.
He fears that this move could create new economic interests dependent on the number and size of blazes.
“It would be a waste and a folly: tying important investments to the number of fires threatens to fuel the fire business,” he told the daily newspaper La Repubblica.
Others argue that, as fire-fighting operations generate temporary jobs in regions affected by high unemployment, people involved in short-term fire-fighting or reconstruction operations might be behind forest arsons.
“There are people who take advantage of the pre-emptive measures adopted by the government: since they are paid by the operation, they secure a job by starting fires,” fire brigade official, Antonio Jiritano, told communist daily Liberazione.
“This way, those who have a three-month contract renew it each time by alternatively carrying out rescue and reconstruction operations.”
Source: BBC

 

So far largest forest fire in Switzerland destroys 450 hectares moutain forest
14 August 2003, 08:39 o’clock 

Leuk (AP) The largest forest fire in Switzerland this year destroyed at least 450 hectares forest in the night to Thursday in Leuk (Oberwallis). A fireman was easily hurt, several hundred people in Leuk and Albinen had to be evacuated. According to the police the spread of the flames could be stopped on the early morning. After report of the wallis canton police the fire started  about to 20 o’clock in St. Barbara on the area of Leuk. Because of the wind and the extreme dryness the flames spread rapidly. The fire area extended from a height of 800 meters up to approximately 2,000 meters. About 300 firefighters tried  to bring the flames under control in the cliffy area. Because of the strong smoke development the support of the fire crews by helicopters was only limited.  In the morning hours the fire was dammed. But there are still three to four large fire sources. Besides hundreds of small spot fires were active at the mountain-slope. Further fires started on the Wednesday afternoon and evening in the cantons Jura and Tessin. In Develier-Dessus in the Jura the fire-brigade could prevent a spreading of the flames. About five hectares forest were destroyed. According to the police a driver had probably caused the fire by throwing away a burning cigarette. In Faido in the Tessin the fire-brigade in the evening was in operation  for fighting a small fire on an area of approximately 200 square meters. In addition for days  in the Maggiatal and in the Suedbuendner Calancatal large forest fires are raging.

Source:  yahoo-Nachrichten

Fires are still burning in a number of countries
13 August 2003

Croatia, which has suffered more than 400 separate fires, managed to bring its latest blazes under control, allowing it to aid neighbouring Montenegro where serious fires are still burning. 

French socialist leader Francois Hollande accused the government of passivity and inertia in the face of the crisis. “It is absolutely incomprehensible that the government has not put a proper crisis group in place,” he said. Hospital wards are overflowing and even mortuary space is under pressure, say French reports. 

How hot is hot? Maps and graphs looking at extreme weather around the world

“We’ve got more than 100 victims (in France),” said Patrick Pelloux, the head of France’s association of emergency doctors. The government has insisted that it is impossible to blame the deaths directly on the heat. “People don’t come in with ‘dying of heat’ on their foreheads,” said Stephane Grossier, of the Health Ministry. “It’s not as simple as that.” But France’s largest funeral directors, Les Pompes Funebres Generales, said demands on its services had risen 50% in Paris since the heatwave took hold. 

Power remains critical, as French giant EDF urges consumers to reduce their electricity use. “We are mobilising all possible means to develop production,” chairman Francois Roussely said on RTL radio. “The biggest danger would be to lose electricity.” Emergency talks on Monday ended in an agreement to allow three French nuclear power stations to discharge hotter-than-usual water into rivers, to the anger of environmentalists. Six power plants have had to shut down, the government says. River levels are not only lower than usual, but the water is warmer – making the task of cooling the power generators doubly difficult. Environment Minister Roselyne Bachelot, who has also appealed for people to reduce their power consumption, has assured French citizens that the government is fully “vigilant” as the heatwave continues. 

Two German regional governments – Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg – have also allowed warmer water to be pumped into rivers, to head off a power shortage. The two plants have been operating at only 80% capacity due to the high temperature of water used to cool the reactors. Germany’s oldest nuclear plant, Obrigheim, has been forced to shut.  Temperatures may start to drop towards the end of this week, forecasters say. 

Source: BBC

Fires continue to rage in southern  Europe
Tuesday 12 August 2003, 08:11 o’clock of

Milan/Paris/Madrid (dpa) – Strong forest fires on Sardinia  raised panic among tourists  on Monday. To the Costa Smeralda a camping area had to be evacuated, reported the Italian television in the evening. In addition the flames threatened a hotel. Also on the French Mediterranean island Corsica as well as in Spain and Portugal still heavy forest and shrub fires are raging. Milan (Italy) announced also with 39,2 °C a heat record for the last 250 years. Meteoroligists assume it becomes still hotter in the next days in the whole country. To Umbria, near to Neapel and in Piemont waterbombers are in operation against the flames. Several arsonists were arrested. Experts assume a “forest-fire-mafia” is behind the fires. Forests were ignited,  in order to to get building land or earn money with reforestation. In Portugal  in the past two weeks already 15 people were killed by fires. A large fire in the holiday  region Algarve in the south of the country continues to spread. In the mountain country of the Serra de Monchique firefighters are on three fronts. “the fire is out of control”,  a speaker of the fire-brigade said. Several villages were evacuated because of fires. The Portuguese fire crews asked fire-brigades in the neighbouring Spain for assistance. In the south of the French Mediterranean island Corsica on Monday two shrub fires continued to spread. The fires near Tolla and Coscione altogether devasted more than 700 hectares of forest and shrubland.

Source: yahoo news

Forest Fires in Germany
Tuesday 12 August 2003, 08:11 o’clock

Hamburg (dpa) – The fire-brigades in several regions of Germany were alarmed on Monday night. After the heat wave of the past four weeks fast spreading fires started on Monday in the south of the state Brandenburg and in the Harz region (state Niedersachsen). Fires in Brandenburg expanded on up to 100 hectares forest and wasteland . In the Harz region trees on 7 hectares burned such as scales, the police in Goslar reported. Several firefighters were hurt. Up to the morning the fire-brigades at both places were still in fire-fighting operations. In the state Sachsen-Anhalt fires obstructed the railway traffic between Berlin and Halle. Also near Braunschweig and Guetersloh (state Niedersachsen) forests were on fire. In Guetersloh a pine forest fell the fire to the victim. In the district Teltow Flaeming (State Brandenburg) the third large fire in one week started. The flames spread rapidly from 20 on up to 100 hectares. Approximately 130 firefighters with more than 30 fire engines were in operation, in addition two special helicopters and four waterbombers. In the region Harz a pineforst near the town Juliushuette in the district Goslar burned. About 200 firefighters and 150 Bundeswehr (German Federal Armed Force) soldiers could bring the fire at a mountain-slope under control up to the evening . Again flickering smaller fire sources were fought in the evening and at the night. Night watches were used. Some task forces suffered because of the large heat of cycle collapses and were supplied by the emergency service. Only after the soldiers had succeeded to put several hose lines on the mountain it was possible to contain the fire.

Source: yahoo news

Portugal Fires Result of ‘Powder Keg’ Forests Ian Simpson

LISBON – Raging fires in Portugal that have killed 15 people and devastated huge areas of woodland are the result of policies and neglect that turned forests into a powder keg, experts say.
Chaotic record-keeping, lack of investment in the countryside and poor forestry management are blamed for contributing to the fires that have caused nearly a billion euros (dollars) in damage and prompted the government to declare a national disaster.
“It’s not surprising that a situation like this occurred,” said Luciano Fernandes Lourenco, an expert in forest fires at the University of Coimbra.
He said neglected forests were choked with tinder dry dead wood, contributing to the exceptional fires that have raged since late July — far bigger than any since at least 1980.
But experts said the fires were a climax to Portugal’s poor forest fire history. Portugal was alone among five southern European Union countries by having a fire record that had worsened in the previous two decades, a 2001 EU report said.
Lack of oversight “left forests a powder keg, and it has increased from year to year,” said Domingos Patacho, a forest engineer with the Quercus environmental group.
Thousands of firefighters were battling to control four blazes on Saturday. They included one of the first in the southern resort area of the Algarve, far south of central mountain regions that have been worst hit.

FIVE PERCENT OF FORESTS ASHES

The Forestry Commission estimates that about 162,000 hectares (400,000 acres), or five percent, of woodlands have burned this year. The area is about the size of Greater London.
Portugal is seeking EU financial help to deal with the aftermath of the fires, and warned on Friday that the estimated damage costs of 925 million euros were bound to rise.
Tiny holdings underlie much of the disaster, Patacho said.
Portugal’s 3.3 million hectares (8.25 million acres) of forests are split up among 600,000 property owners, many of them with plots of only a few hectares (acres).
“With most landholdings the size of a football pitch, it’s hard to maintain a system that is economically viable,” he said.
Jose Miguel Cardoso Pereira, a forestry professor at the Technical University of Lisbon, said property registers were decades out of date. The makes it hard for better capitalized landholders to buy up plots and to coordinate efforts to prevent fires, such as clearing dead trees and litter.
“There is a substantial lack of information about who owns what and how it is used, and what information there is is not effectively used,” he said.
Young people for decades have fled the forested interior, one of the EU’s poorest regions, to seek jobs elsewhere. Older people left behind often cannot take care of woods.
Another source of criticism was the country’s policy of “green petroleum,” which has focused on planting highly combustible pine trees and eucalyptus for the timber industry since the 1970s. Eucalyptus plantings have almost tripled in the last three decades, according to Forestry Commission numbers.
The danger was compounded in Portugal since pines and eucalyptus are generally not mixed with more fire-resistant trees, such as oak or chestnut, Fernandes Lourenco said.
And he said the devastating blazes had been compounded by the fact that almost all firefighters are volunteers and lack equipment to deal with bigger fires.

Source: Planet Ark

Portugal fire cost top $1 billion
09 August 2003    Posted: 2:47 AM EDT (0647 GMT)

LISBON, Portugal (Reuters) — Forest fires which have killed 15 people in Portugal have already caused 925 million euros ($1 billion) damage and the figure is bound to rise, the government has said. The cost of the worst fires in a generation is another blow to one of the European Union’s poorest nations, already suffering from a stagnant economy and the bloc’s fastest-rising jobless rate. Saturday, August 9, 2003 Posted: 2:47 AM EDT (0647 GMT)
Thousands of firefighters and troops battled blazes in the central mountains. The government is rushing 800 soldiers just back from peacekeeping duties in East Timor and Bosnia straight into the fire zone. “Right now the rough number we’re working with is 925 million euros,” Interior Minister Antonio Figueiredo Lopes said in remarks carried by private TSF radio. “We still have fires burning. Unfortunately that number is surely going to increase,” Figueiredo Lopes said as he toured burned areas of eastern Portugal with EU Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou. The fires, fanned by a scorching heatwave, have killed at least 15 people, cut transport links, destroyed scores of homes and left hundreds of square kilometres of forests in ashes. Diamantopoulou said the EU could provide immediate help for projects such as restoring power and reopening roads, but needed proposals from Portugal for longer-term assistance. Portugal has requested financial help from the EU and equipment from NATO. Portugal offered 100 million euros of government aid when it declared a national disaster on Monday. The Forestry Commission estimated on Thursday that five percent of Portugal’s forests have burned this year, an area equivalent to Greater London. Forest industries such as pulp, paper and cork make up about three percent of the economy and are a major export sector. State radio RTP reported that 35 people suspected of setting fires had been arrested, including a 76-year-old woman. Much of the damage has come since late July in by far the biggest fires since 1980. About 500 people were treated last week alone for fire-related injuries and conditions, mostly smoke inhalation, the Health Ministry said. The raging fires and their cost come as Portugal has put austerity measures in place to close a budget deficit that breached EU limits in 2001. The unemployment rate hit 7.3 percent in June, the fastest 12-month rise in the EU. Neighbouring Spain was also suffering. A fire on El Hierro, the smallest of Spain’s Canary Islands off North Africa, prized for its parks, has devoured 10 percent of its forests and was still burning, officials said.

Source: CNN

1,600 people  in Spain because of forest fires evacuated 
07 August 2003, 21:12 

Madrid (AP) Because of  heavy fires on Thursday approximately 1,600 people in northern Spain were evacuated. People were instructed to leave camping sites and mansions close to the city Macanet de read Selva as a precaution, how the local police communicated. Strong wind faned on  the fire and because of the smoke a road and a railway  had to become closed. The police arrested meanwhile three men under the suspicion of  arson.  So far fires  in Spain destroyed more than 27,000 hectares land.

Source: Yahoo News

Forest fire on former military range in Brandenburg 
07 August 2003, 19:34 o’clock 

Luckenwalde (AP) A contained fire started again on a former military range in the state Brandenburg, Germany. Like the spokeswoman of the district Teltow Flaeming Mrs. Martina Krueger said were about 30 hectare waste land and heath country of the place northwest from Jueterbog on fire. The around-lying old ammunition made the fire-fighting operations more difficult. 18 fire-brigades were in operation with numerous vehicles, three airplanes and a helicopter . The fire was announced against 15.00 o’clock on Thursday.  The  Minister of the Interior of the state Brandenburg Mr. Joerg Schoenbohm flew to the range  in order to make himself a picture of the situation. Only at the beginning of the week a fire started on an former military range near  Jueterbog because of a self inflammation of old ammunition. The fire destroyed  40 hectares forest land.

Source: Yahoo News

No ‘all-clear’ signal with fires in Portugal
07 August 2003, 18:36 o’clock 

Lisbon (Reuters) – By an easy decrease of the temperatures over night the situation relaxed something after the devastating fires in Portugal. For an ‘all-clear’ signal it was however still too early on Thursday. More than 2500 firefighters remained in operation, in order to prevent a reflashing of the fires. In far parts of Europe the heatwave continued. A speaker of the directing centre of the disaster control in Portugal communicated, it succeeded to the firefighters to bring at least two large fires under control. In another place the fires continued to rage. In the Pine forests northwest from Macieira, 180 kilometers from Lisbon, the flames spread from coniferous tree to coniferous tree, while waterbombers and more than 200 firefighters and volunteers tried to contain the fires. “I am very anxious that the wind could turn”, said a resident of the place. “then  the fire would be here and take us everything.”  More than 14 people lost their lives in the Portugal fires so far.  According to data of local forestry the conflagrations in Portugal destroyed about three per cent of the forest-economically used land of the country.

Source: Yahoo News

Warning over forest fires in Great Britain
07 August 2003 

Fire chiefs have warned that Scotland could face more forest fires as a result of the current high temperatures. They have issued an appeal to the public to help them avoid a repeat of the devastation which engulfed parts of Europe earlier this month. Scotland suffered several devastating fires earlier this year with parts of the Ardnamurchan peninsula on the west coast alight for more than five days. Another case took about 1,200 members of the Highland brigade nearly two weeks to control an outbreak in Lochaber. Fire chiefs said that the current heat wave has brought a new threat to large areas of Scotland, with dry ground and vegetation ripe for ignition. The public is being urged not to burn anything outdoors in the tinderbox conditions. 

Source: BBC News

Forest Fires  in Spain and Portugal
07 August 2003 

MADRID, Spain (CNN) — The death toll rose to 14 from Portugal’s fierce forest fires Wednesday with rising temperatures helping to spark new blazes while firefighters battled five large uncontrolled fires. “The situation has gotten a little worse,” a worker at the National Fire Coordination Center in Lisbon told CNN. The latest victims were a married couple, in their 40s, who died in a forest fire in the locale of Freixo de Espada a Cinta, in the Braganca district in northern Portugal, said the worker, Patricia Gaspar, of the fire coordination center. But more help has arrived, as three helicopters from Germany landed in Portugal to join the fight Wednesday, adding to the international firefighting aircraft already on loan from Italy and Morocco, Gaspar said. After making good progress against the fires Tuesday, she said the high temperatures on Wednesday were causing new problems and a slightly worse scenario, but that the situation was nonetheless “better than last week, when there were 56 fires burning at the same time.” By Wednesday, the five uncontrolled fires were the main problems. Most were in rough forested terrain, making access difficult. A total of 1,565 firefighers and 700 soldiers were battling the blazes. Another 600 national republican guard officers were patrolling the fire areas to maintain order and help with evacuations where necessary. The uncontrolled fires were listed in Casal Novo of the Castelo Branco district; in the locales of Seia, Sabugal and Vale Nicolau in the Guarda district, and in Vale Sera of the Santarem district. Santarem, about an hour’s drive from Lisbon, was the closest fire to the capital, which itself has not been directly affected by the fires that broke out last week. The latest fires have burned 54,000 hectares (133,000 acres), she said, which is almost as much land burned just since last week as during the entire preceding seven months, since last January, when 80,400 hectares (198,000 acres) had burned, before the latest round of fires. Gaspar confirmed reports that police have arrested several people on suspicion of arson. Authorities have previously said they believed that many of the fires were intentionally set. State-run Lusa news agency reported that one 33 year-old arson suspect had told police he set a fire due to a family dispute. Gaspar said the arrival of three helicopters from Germany resulted from a Portuguese request to the European Union for aid to member countries. On Tuesday, Portugal, in a separate request, asked NATO, for help as well. But a NATO spokesman in Brussels told CNN on Wednesday that Spain, France and Italy — which might normally provide more assistance to fellow-NATO member Portugal — have not been able to help as much due to fires in their own territories. Italy has provided two firefighting aircraft to Portugal, while Spain provided some aircraft last week but later recalled them to fight fires at home. NATO was going to ask other member nations about possibly providing help to Portugal, the spokesman said.  In Spain, the fire situation Wednesday was more under control, and “the numerous fires of the past weekend are practically controlled, although there are few others of less intensity,” a Spanish Environment Ministry statement said. In just the first five days of August, the fires in Spain burned 27,000 hectares (66,700 acres). That was almost as much as in the preceding seven months, since last January, when 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) had burned, before the latest round of fires, the ministry statement said. The latest fires did the most damage in western Spain, near the Portuguese border, the ministry said, adding that Spain had made considerable use of its fleet of 56 firefighting aircraft to contain the blazes. No deaths were reported in Spain due to the fires. But the heat wave gripping the nation has killed 12 people. The latest among them were four people in their 80s who succumbed to the heat in southern Spain.

Source: CNN News

European overview
06 August 2003 

The heat was blamed for the deaths of four more people in Spain on Tuesday and strained power supplies in Italy as the population tried to stay cool. The high temperatures have stoked forest fires from Poland to the Iberian Peninsula, with Portugal’s blazes so extensive they can be seen in satellite pictures. Eleven wildfires raged in Spain’s southwestern region of Extremadura, five of them under control, officials said. Nearly 1,100 people in southwestern and northern Spain have been evacuated because of fires. German firefighters had largely put out blazes in the eastern state of Brandenburg by early Tuesday. However, authorities barred people from entering forests in parts of Brandenburg to lessen the risk of fire. Polish fire crews battled 35 forest blazes Monday and about a quarter of its woodlands were at serious risk of fire, authorities said. The alpine nation of Slovenia was also sweltering, with the capital Ljubljana registering a record 35th day this year of temperatures over 86 Fahrenheit.

Source: CNN News

Fire crews have brought Portugal’s wildfires mostly under control
06 August 2003

LISBON, Portugal — Fire crews have brought Portugal’s worst wildfires in a generation mostly under control — but forecasts of more soaring temperatures have sparked fears of new blazes. Antonio Gualdino, spokesman for the National Fire Coordination Center, told The Associated Press that firefighters and troops were patrolling forests to ensure the blazes were extinguished. Eleven people have been killed in the past 10 days by the fires. “It’s the calmest day so far … but we can’t let our guard down and lose what we’ve gained,” Gualdino said. Some 1,500 firefighters and about 600 vehicles, supported by 700 troops and dozens of aircraft, were on standby, Gualdino said. Strong winds have stoked fires that have destroyed about 54,000 hectares (133,400 acres) of forest, mostly in rural parts of central Portugal, according to the Forest Service. As well, a heat wave has raised temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in many parts of the country, where summer temperatures normally hover around 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit). Portugal asked NATO for planes and helicopters to help fight the fires. “It wasn’t a fire, it was hell. There are no words to describe this,” said Pedro Carvalho, who led about 140 firefighters against an overnight blaze at Degolados, a mountain village about 120 miles northeast of Lisbon, told Reuters. Pointing up a blackened hillside of charred pine and eucalyptus trees, he said flames had covered the slope in 10 minutes. “I’ve seen a lot, but I’ve never seen anything of this size,” the 20-year fire service veteran said as firefighters hosed down smouldering trees. “The men are worn out.” Forest fires have also claimed lives in France and Spain as a heat wave engulfs much of Europe. (French fires)


Source: CNN News

No let-up for Europe heatwave 
05 August 2003 

Europe is continuing to swelter under a heatwave which has sent temperatures soaring right across the region. 

The blistering heat has sparked off a series of forest fires and set new records across the continent. 
The Portuguese Government has asked Nato to provide water carrying helicopters and equipment to help hundreds of firefighters still battling to control the blazes in the central and southern parts of the country. 
Two more bodies – those of a 62-year-old man and an elderly woman – were found on Tuesday, bringing the total number of dead in Portugal to 11. Smoke in some places is now so thick that planes and helicopters have been unable to fight the flames from the air. The fires are so bad they can be seen in satellite photos. 
Temperatures in the country have hit 40C and with no sign of respite until next week at the earliest it is feared they could climb as high as 42C. In neighbouring Spain, temperatures in the southern cities of Seville and Cordoba topped 41C. Three elderly women in the region died from the effects of the heat, bringing the country’s total to 14. 

In other parts of Europe: 

Five deaths in Germany were blamed on the heat, which topped 40C in some places Mines left behind after the Bosnian war stopped firefighters battling a three-day-old blaze near Mostar Fifty-four of France’s 98 departments have requested state aid for drought-hit farmers Power cuts were imposed in Italy amid soaring demand Polish firefighters battled 35 forest blazes and said there was serious fire risk in about a quarter of the country’s woodlands Amsterdam highs edged towards 30C, prompting zoo officials to spray ostriches with cold water and feed iced fruit to chimpanzees Rail speed restrictions imposed in case tracks buckled in the heat were causing chaos and cancellations for UK rail travellers.  There have been similar scenes in France, where this summer has been declared the hottest since World War II.  “The current heat is totally exceptional – even for August,” Dominique Escale of France’s national weather service Meteo France, said.  In the capital, Paris, residents have been taking to public fountains to cool off or seeking shelter in the shade of the Eiffel Tower. With pollution levels in the city being exacerbated by the searing heat police have been forced to impose stringent traffic speed restrictions. Slovenian temperatures are at their highest for a century and in Germany a record night-time high was registered on Monday. 

Source: BBC

Portugal fires destroy vast area
05 August 2003 

Forest fires are continuing to burn across Portugal, despite the efforts of thousands of firefighters to contain the flames. Nine people have died, and more than 53,000 hectares of land have been destroyed so far in the fires, some of which have been burning for more than a week. The Portuguese Government has declared a national calamity – opening the way to those who have lost property to claim for compensation. The Portuguese firefighters’ association has called on the government to go a step further and declare a national emergency. Strong winds and record high temperatures have fanned the flames, while the dense smoke has limited the use of water-bombing aircraft. Woman is rescued from forest fires. The BBC’s Claire Marshall, in Porto Alegre, says 3,000 firefighters are continuing to do what they can to contain the blazes but many are exhausted. One local villager involved in fighting the blazes told the BBC that no-one had seen fires like this in living memory. Water-carrying planes sent by Italy, Morocco and Spain have dumped hundreds of tonnes of water onto the forests. It seems as if they are helping at least to contain the worst fires, our correspondent adds. “We are facing an exceptional situation,” Prime Minister Jose Durao Barroso said after an emergency Cabinet meeting. “It’s been brought about by absolutely exceptional weather conditions, so we have to respond with exceptional measures.” The government has pledged more than 110m euros ($124m) in aid for people who have lost their jobs and homes, for farmers who have lost crops and livestock and for local councils to rebuild infrastructure.  Across the border in Spain, the death toll in the extreme heat rose to seven over the weekend. The victims are thought to have died from the effects of the heat. Temperatures in the southern region of Andalucia have risen above 40C (104F), with some towns recording their highest-ever temperatures. Forest fires have continued to burn in Extremadura, a remote region to the north which borders Portugal.
 
In other parts of Western Europe:

* Technicians doused the Fessenheim nuclear power station near Strasbourg, France, with cold water to prevent it overheating
* Police in the Ile de France region around Paris lowered speed limits from 50 km/h (30 mph) to 30 km/h because of ozone levels in the capital 65% above levels considered safe for humans
* Rail speed restrictions were imposed in the UK amid fears that tracks might buckle in the heat, as weather officials said midweek temperatures could surpass the country’s record of 37.1C (98.8F).
* This year’s wheat harvest in the Czech Republic, already hit by poor winter weather, was predicted to plummet to 2.7m tonnes – down from nearly 4m tonnes last year.

Despite the severity of the fires, the Portuguese prime minister rejected calls for the government to declare a national emergency, noting that emergency plans were in place in the three districts where the worst of the fires were concentrated. Officials say it is impossible to estimate how many homes have burned down. Portugal has also activated a European Union civil defence mechanism aimed at prompting rapid action by member states to supply manpower and equipment. 

Source: BBC 

Forest fires near Athens
04 August 2003

(AP) On Monday a forest fire in Greece close to the capital Athens destroyed  approximately 4.8 hectares forest land. According to authority data the fire which had already approached  a populated area could be brought under control with a water helicopter. In the evening firefighters in Nea Makri contained a second fire northeast from Athens.

Source: Yahoo Nachrichten


Portugal to declare fire ‘calamity’
04 August 2003  by Alison Roberts In Lisbon

Portugal’s Prime Minister has said his government will formally declare the forest fires raging across the country a public calamity, paving the way for compensation for those who have lost homes and other property. The fires have claimed nine lives in the past few days and destroyed thousands of hectares of forest. Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso made the pledge to declare the fires a public calamity after talking to national fire chiefs on Sunday. The measure is to be approved at an extraordinary cabinet meeting on Monday. But the prime minister again rejected calls for the government to declare a national emergency, noting that emergency plans were in place in the three districts where the worst of the fires were concentrated. Fires are still burning in 15 of the country’s 18 districts and some are still out of control. Officials say it is impossible to estimate how many homes have burned down. With local fire brigades struggling to cope, Portugal has requested help from outside. Two firefighting planes from Italy and five from Morocco came into action on Sunday. Spain, where some of the fires started, also has firefighters helping their Portuguese colleagues. Portugal has also activated a European Union civil defence mechanism aimed at prompting rapid action by member states to supply manpower and equipment


Source: BBC News

Portugal declares fire desaster
04 August 2003

Nine people have been killed in Portugal in the last week as a heatwave continues in Europe from Russia to the Iberian Peninsula to Britain. The heat has killed at least 12 people in Spain and Germany and threatens to break national temperature records in France and Britain. Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso said the declaration of a national disaster, approved by the cabinet on Monday, would make more than 100 million euros ($113 million) available in disaster aid. “The situation the country is facing is exceptional, caused by absolutely exceptional climatic conditions,” he said. “That is why we have to act with exceptional measures.” Durao Barroso said Portugal would also seek disaster relief funding from the European Union. More than 2,300 firefighters, mostly volunteers, were tackling 72 blazes in Portugal, which is about one-third forest. Firefighters in Semideiro, a town of 1,500 people about 100 km (65 miles) northeast of Lisbon, battled to keep flames from a blazing pine forest away from houses. With afternoon temperatures reaching 40 C (104 F), they hoped a southerly wind would hold. “If the wind shifts from the south and changes to the north there could be a tragedy, since many towns are at risk,” firefighter Manuel Policarpo told Reuters. Fires in Spain’s Extremadura region, which borders Portugal, and the province of Avila forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes. In Spain’s southern region of Andalucia, seven people have died from the heatwave since Thursday, a spokeswoman for the regional health service said. Most were elderly. Temperatures in the high 30s C (upper 90s F) caused five deaths in the northern German town of Holzminden over the weekend. Construction work on a soccer stadium in Munich was halted on Monday because engineers feared temperatures reaching 36 C (96.8 F) could cause cracks in the structure. In the eastern state of Brandenburg, about 30 hectares (74 acres) of forest were ablaze 60 km (37 miles) south of Berlin, forcing closure of a national road. In France, a spokeswoman for the state weather office said temperatures this week were expected to near the national record of 44 C (111.2 F) set in 1923. In Britain, temperatures threatened to top the 37.1 C (98.8 F) all-time high. Britain’s rail network slapped speed restrictions on a wide range of lines due to risk of rails buckling and warned of extended journey times. Speed limits were cut to 60 miles per hour (100 km) from the more usual 90 or 120 miles per hour and could go even lower. Some 431 fires were raging in Russia. Heavy rain has tamed blazes that devastated swathes of Siberia and the Russian Far East. Firefighters in Croatia battled fires on the Adriatic islands of Brac, Hvar and Bisevo, where temperatures reached 37 C (98.6 F). Blazes have burned an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 hectares (12,500 to 15,000 acres) of pine forests, olive groves and scrubland in southern Croatia since last week. 
Source: BBC News

For more information look at the media page:  
Media Highlights on Fire, Policies, and Politics

For fire statistics of France : See GFMC statistics page for France:

https://gfmc.online/inventory/stat/fr/statistic%202000.htm

 


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