British holidaymakers flee and celebrities’ homes threatened as fires rage across Mediterranean resorts

British holidaymakers flee and celebrities’ homes threatened as fires rage across Mediterranean resorts

26 July 2009

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Southern Europe —

Hundreds of fires in Spain, France, Italy and Greece have killed at least seven people this week, destroying thousands of hectares of forest and gutting dozens of homes.

Bush fires are raging across swathes of southern Europe, with a prolonged spell of hot weather turning woodland around the Mediterranean coastline tinder dry.

Spain has been the worst hit and thousands of villagers, including hundreds of British tourists, have had to be evacuated to escape wildfires that have killed five firefighters.

Thousands of police and soldiers had been drafted in to help combat seven serious fires in the south and east of Spain.

However, one of the most damaging blazes that raged for more than 36 hours in Mojacar, in the southern Andalusia region, has been stabilised, authorities said.

Around 1,500 people spent the night in makeshift shelters, while others spent the night on the beach, as local authorities battled flames circling the hilltop town.

Coronation Street star Anne Kirkbride was one of those who had to flee after the fire swept within 150 yards of her holiday home

It is the second time this week the inferno has forced the actress, who plays Deidre Barlow, to abandon her villa.

An ITV spokeswoman said: ‘The fires in the region mean that Anne did have to leave for a while but she is now back in her villa.’

Ex-pat Sharon Pressley who lives in Mojacar, said there was mounting speculation that some of the fires had been started deliberately.

She told Sky News: ‘Police here are now saying they think it could be arson rather than the temperatures, but that is just speculation.

‘The area where I actually live is free of fire at the moment but the smoke and devastation is obviously still there for all to see.’

Singer David Gray, footballers Ashley Cole and David Bentley and cricket legend Ian Botham are also thought to have homes in the area.

Tourists in the three-star Hotel Indalo were evacuated along with residents in the neighbouring villages of Turre and Abla, which have become increasingly popular with expats in recent years.

Huge clouds of black smoke were clearly visible from the beach below Mojacar as the flames, fanned by temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius and 50mph winds, took hold.

This morning Mojacar, famed for its whitewashed houses and cobbled streets, was virtually a ghost town.

Expat Brian Roberts, 50, said: ‘We were all ordered out by police with loudspeakers yesterday afternoon and very few people have returned.

‘We’ve been told the town is no longer at risk but the fire is still not under control.

‘People are still pretty worried.’

One of the five firefighters who have died is a 44-year-old father-of-two, who was killed instantly after his fire truck plunged down a mountain as he raced to a blaze in Aragon in the north of the country.

Four firefighters died on Tuesday afternoon as they fought to control a blaze in a nature reserve in the east coast province of Tarragona.

The tragedy left four children orphaned.

On the French island of Corsica, some 10,000 acres of scrub and bush has burnt in 12 separate blazes over the past 24 hours, with temperatures of above 40C and strong winds fanning the flames.

Police said arsonists might be behind eight of the fires.

The village of Aullene in the south of the island was especially hard hit, with around a dozen houses and part of an ancient forest devoured by the flames. The town mayor said emergency services had been slow to come to their rescue.

‘Efforts are always centred on the tourist sites and we are forgotten,’ said mayor Pierre Castellani.

On the Italian island of Sardinia, just to the south of Corsica, two people were killed by flash fires on Thursday and the blazes continued on Friday in seven different places.

Forest fires also raged on the southern Italian island of Sicily and in the mainland region of the Marche.

‘We still have nine active fires but there is no danger to the population as the winds are weaker than yesterday,’ said Luigi D’Angelo from the emergency office of Civil Protection.

In Greece, more than 320 wildfires have scorched large swathes of forest land across the country this week, but have so far missed homes and buildings.

In 2007, the worst forest fires in memory raged for 10 days, sweeping through dozens of villages and killing 65 people.

A European Union monitoring agency warned there was a high risk of fire along most of the Mediterranean and with extremely high temperatures forecast for much the region in the coming days, authorities said they remained on high alert. 

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