Southern Europe – Temperatures cool but fires still rage across southern Europe

Temperatures cool but fires still rage across southern Europe

28 July 2007

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An extreme heatwave that has roasted southern Europe for a week eased Saturday, but a raft of wildfires that followed in its wake continued to rage and some countries began rounding up suspected arsonists.

In Bulgaria, where 23,000 hectares (57,000 acres) of forest and farmland have burned over the past week as the country experienced its hottest temperatures since records began — reaching above 45 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) — some 7,000 firefighters and 2,500 army troops battled the blazes.

Many fires had been brought under control but about 3,000 hectares were still ablaze in the southern region of Maglizh, while 11 houses burned down in one village near Kyustendil in the west.

Press reports also said four people had died in fire-related incidents, but this could not immediately be confirmed.

Bulgarian police meanwhile said they had arrested 14 suspected arsonists.

Firefighters were also still battling at least 30 forest fires across Macedonia Saturday, most of them near the capital Skopje.

Six helicopters sent from Germany, Slovenia and Turkey were helping quell the flames, while planes were also being sent from Norway, Russia and Turkey.

While the week-long heatwave that has fanned flames across southern Europe was abating in most places and temperatures gradually returned to normal for the season, forecasts predicted the searing temperatures in Macedonia would continue through Monday.

President Branko Crvenkovski asked his Serbian counterpart Boris Tadic for assistance after the wildfires abated in his country.

In Serbia’s breakaway province of Kosovo however, NATO’s KFOR peacekeepers joined firefighters to extinguish several wildfires, and sent six helicopters to quell some brush fires near the western town of Popovac.

In Greece, five fires were still burning in the northwest of the country, involving nearly 300 firefighters, around 60 trucks, four planes and four helicopters.

The wildfires in Achaia in the Peloponnese, which since Tuesday have destroyed around 100 homes and properties, laid waste to more than 15,000 hectares and killed three elderly villagers who did not flee the area, were also “shrinking back,” authorities said.

Russia sent another two fire-fighting helicopters to Greece, and a Russian plane was expected to arrive Sunday.

Across southern Italy, where thousands of hectares of national park land have been torched by the past week’s fires, the situation had vastly improved, authorities said.

In Calabria firefighters were however still battling blazes threatening several scattered homes, while further north in Campania, helicopters were trying to quell a blaze that for days has been roaring through a forest north of Naples.

Italy on Friday declared a state of disaster for its worst-affected areas in the centre and south of the country, while authorities said around 10 people had been arrested on suspicion of arson.

In Romania, where several hundred hectares have been turned to ashes in the past 48 hours, the capital and eight southern counties were placed on high fire alert amid continued scorching temperatures.

In Slovakia, about 70 firefighters were on Saturday still battling flames that broke out when lightning struck down in the heatwave-parched eastern national park Slovensky Raj (Slovakian Paradise) on July 22.

In Croatia, only one wildfire that has been burning in the national park on the Velebit mountain since Thursday was still raging, and some 200 firefighters backed by water-bomber planes were battling the flames.

And in Spain’s Canary Islands, campers and residents were evacuated overnight while firefighters fought two blazes that scorched up to 1,000 hectares.

In Tejeda in the centre of Gran Canaria, 180 firemen backed up by five helicopters battled a fire which had already destroyed more than 800 hectares, an official said, adding arsonists might be to blame.

On the small island of La Gomera, 60 people were also evacuated as firefighters tackled a blaze which destroyed at least 150 hectares and threatened the pristine Garajonay National Park.

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