Firefighters battle wildfires in southern Europe

  Firefighters battle wildfires in southern Europe

20 August 2009

published by AFP

Spanish and Portuguese firefighters brought under control Thursday several wildfires that had been raging for days, while a new front opened across the Mediterranean in Greece.

In Greece, the flames, fed by 60-kilometre-an-hour winds (40 miles an hour), headed towards the northern suburbs of Athens.

In Spain’s northeastern Aragon region, some 300 firefighters and soldiers backed by 18 water-dropping aircraft fought to contain a fire that broke out Tuesday inside the military camp at San Gregorio near the city of Zaragoza.

The head of the forestry department in the Aragon region, Alberto Contreras, said firefighters had halted the advance of the flames on one front that was heading toward a pine forest near the town of Zuera.

The most active front was moving towards the village of Remolinos, the Aragon government said in a statement.

It said the fire, fueled by scorching temperatures of 40 C (104 F), has destroyed some 6,500 hectares (16,000 acres) of forests and scrubland, most of it within the military zone.

Between January 1 and August 9 wildfires have ravaged 84,064 hectares of land in Spain, more than during all of last year and the highest amount in the past decade, figures released Wednesday by the environment ministry showed.

More than half of the fire damage this year was in northeastern Spain.

The blazes have claimed eight lives, including six firefighters, since last month.

Another blaze that had spread from Portugal into the Spanish province of Salamanca was under control, said local officials.

In Greece, the strong winds fanned two fires on the western and eastern outskirts of Athens, forcing authorities to suspend traffic on one of Greece’s busiest motorways, the fire department said.

The fire destroyed at least one factory before firefighters brought it under control, local deputy prefect Adrianos Mihalaros told Flash radio.

In Portugal, civil protection officials said that after three days of battling scores of fires, mainly in the north of the country, they had brought all major blazes under control.

Earlier Thursday, firefighters had battled a blaze in the northeastern district of Braganca, in the Douro National Park near the Spanish border.

The fire in Braganca was one of four that erupted Thursday in the north and the centre of Portugal, following a brief respite from massive blazes on Wednesday, civil protection authorities said.

By late afternoon, all four had been extinguished.

On Wednesday alone, Portuguese authorities deployed almost 2,800 firefighters to battle 152 fires.

Fires destroyed nearly 24,000 hectares of land between January 1 and August 15 in Portugal, around 7,000 hectares more than all of last year.

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