Forest wildfires rage across southern Europe

At least eight dead and thousands evacuated as soaring temperatures and high winds feed flames around the Mediterranean
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The Independent Online

Forest and brush fires raged across southern Europe yesterday, with a prolonged spell of hot weather turning woodland around the Mediterranean coastline tinder dry.

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

Spain has been the worst hit, and authorities said thousands of villagers have had to be rescued from wildfires that have killed six people, five of them firefighters. Two people died in flash fires on Sardinia.

Thousands of police, soldiers and volunteers backed by more than 30 aircraft fought serious fires in the south and east of Spain, where temperatures peaked at 44C. Authorities maintained an alert on Gran Canaria where thermometers have hit 37C.

Two major wildfires were still burning in eastern Spain yesterday, but seven had been brought under control, the Interior Ministry said. The active fires were consuming forests around the ancient town of Aliaga, in Aragon, said regional ministry representative Alfredo Bone.

On the French island of Corsica, some 10,000 acres of scrub and bush have burnt in 12 separate blazes over the past 24 hours, with strong winds fanning the flames. Police said arsonists could be behind eight of the fires, and that they had arrested three men, including two farmers, aged 21 and 24.

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. Its mayor said emergency services had been slow to arrive. "Efforts are always centred on tourist sites, and we are forgotten," Pierre Castellani said.

On the Italian island of Sardinia, 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 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," said Luigi d'Angelo from the Emergency Office of Civil Protection.

In Greece, more than 320 wildfires have scorched large patches of forest 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.

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

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