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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July, 2003, 14:46 GMT 15:46 UK
Europe battles forest fires
French plane drops water
The fires are being fought from land and air
Firefighters were battling blazes across Europe on Tuesday, as weeks of dry weather and soaring temperatures combined to create tinderbox conditions.

Hundreds of blazes have broken out from Portugal to Russia's far east, and as far north as Sweden.

As the drought continues, farmers say huge quantities of crops are withering and animals are under threat.

France has announced that farmers will get emergency aid.

It's becoming a disaster for German agriculture - it's Mexico, it's Siberia
Gerd Sonnleitner
German farmers' leader
Germany's agriculture minister is considering following suit, after estimates that some farmers may lose 80% of their crops. The eastern regions of Saxony and Brandenberg are among the worst hit.

"It's becoming a disaster for German agriculture," said a German farmers' federation leader Gerd Sonnleitner. "We've almost got a desert with the climate in Brandenburg at present. It's Mexico, it's Siberia."

Chemicals dropped

European farmers' group Copa-Cogeca has described the situation as a "natural disaster", and pleaded for European Union funds.

European farm ministers were discussing the crisis at a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday.

As the fires continue to burn, most are posing no immediate threat to major towns.

One of the worst blazes is on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, where more than 2,000 hectares (4,600 acres) of forest has been destroyed.

The area, 20km (15 miles) from the capital, Ajaccio, is virtually inaccessible by land. Planes have dropped water and fire-retardant chemicals to try to control the flames.

Thick palls of smoke were reported over parts of Italy as fire ripped through dry woodland. Priests encouraged their congregations to pray for rain.

In Croatia, firefighters battled flames outside Dubrovnik, but officials said the historic city itself was not affected.

Bathers in Lake Geneva
The prolonged heat has meant summer fun for some
Five separate fires were being fought near the Spanish capital, Madrid, and in Portugal a huge maritime pine forest was finally put out after burning for five days with the loss of 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres).

In Russia, nearly 520 fires were burning.

"It is bad, it is very bad, but our people are out fighting the fires," said an emergencies ministry spokesman.

More than 60 of the blazes in the far east where 2,500 people, 38 aircraft and 400 units of ground equipment were battling the flames.

Elsewhere in Russia, about 3,000 hectares of dense forest were engulfed in flames around Lake Baikal.

Dry Danube

Water levels in many major rivers have continued to fall.

Along the River Danube, dozens of barges and other vessels were being held up because the water was not deep enough for them to navigate.

Traffic between Vienna and the Slovakian border had been completely halted, and extremely low levels were reported in Hungary.

Austrian power companies have been forced to cut production at some of their conventional water-cooled plants by one third despite demand being at its peak.

In pictures: Europe's forest fires
22 Jul 03  |  Photo Gallery
In pictures: France's surprise storm
17 Jul 03  |  Photo Gallery
Killer storms lash France
16 Jul 03  |  Europe
Europe bakes in historic highs
15 Jul 03  |  Europe
Emergency threat in dry Italy
14 Jul 03  |  Europe

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