28 Jul 2009

Europe wildfires abate, dry conditions remain

9:12 am on 28 July 2009

Firefighters have gained the upper hand against deadly wildfires that have swept across southern Europe over the past week, but sizzling temperatures and strong winds risked reviving the flames, officials say.

In France, Italy and Spain, the worst affected countries, most of the blazes were extinguished or under control although firefighters remained on alert.

Spain's national weather office issued an "orange" alert, its second-highest level, for eight Spanish provinces due to scorching temperatures of up to 38°C.

Near the Spanish town of Las Hurdes, a blaze thought to be under control flared up overnight due to strong winds, forcing the evacuation of more than 500 people.

In Greece, firefighters took control of a blaze on the island of Zante that led coast guards to evacuate about 50 people from a beach late on Sunday, although the region remained at risk from strong winds.

Rescue boats and fire fighters evacuated about 70 holidaymakers trapped on a beach on the Ioanian island of Zakynthos as a fire raged nearby.

More than 320 fires have burned large swathes of forest land across the Greece over the past week.

French firefighters battled a blaze that has raged since 23 July near Aullene on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, destroying 3,500 hectares of forest and bush.

Two Corsican farmers, aged 21 and 24, were sentenced on Monday to prison terms after admitting to setting five fires in three villages in the Rapale area.

In Italy, fires that claimed two lives last week on the island of Sardinia were largely under control on Monday, while a blaze in a nature reserve in Sicily was still active, the civil protection service said.

Meanwhile wildfires which have ravaged nearly 4,000 hectares of land since Wednesday in Algeria, which is separated from southern Spain by the Mediterranean, have been brought under control, civil protection officials said.

The fires had been fuelled by temperatures which soared to 47°C in some parts of the north African country but which have since eased slightly.