Page last updated at 15:01 GMT, Friday, 24 July 2009 16:01 UK

Wildfires rage in southern Europe


Fires devastate large areas

Thousands of firefighters are battling to bring under control summer wildfires that are spreading across parts of southern Europe.

At least eight people have died in fires that have struck Spain, France, Greece and the Italian island of Sardinia in the past few days.

Spain has been hardest hit, with at least seven big fires in the south and east. Several are now rated as stable.

Strong winds have fanned the flames during the hot dry weather.

A European Union monitoring agency has warned that the risk of fire along the Mediterranean coastline remains high with soaring temperatures predicted for the coming days.

Spain's interior ministry has put the country on maximum wildfire alert and is urging citizens to avoid starting fires in the current intense heat.

About 1,500 people - including many British expatriates and holidaymakers - were evacuated from the Mojacar region of south-east Spain as flames threatened the area.

"It's like a horror film round here," said Benjamin Jackson, a 23-year-old British expat. "As far as you can see basically everything has burned down."

New death

Spain has suffered the heaviest death toll from the fires, losing six firefighters in the last four days.

Four were killed in Catalonia on Tuesday, and the driver of a firefighters' truck lost his life in Teruel province on Thursday.

Fires burning in Mojacar, Spain

A fifth member of the crew caught up in the Catalonia fire died in hospital of his injuries on Friday, reports said. He was named as Pau Costa, aged 31, Spanish media reported.

Several of the fires were caused by thousands of lightning bolts from a fierce electrical storm which hit the Aragon region, El Pais newspaper said.

In Sardinia a series of bush fires claimed two lives, including that of a shepherd who was trying to rescue his flock.

Helicopters and civil protection boats were used to rescue more than 120 people trapped on a beach at Capo Pecora in the south-west of the island.

The penitentiary complex of Is Arenas had to be evacuated, and the inmates temporarily transferred to the beach, Ansa news agency reports.

In Greece, firefighters continue to tackle blazes that have hit the southern Peloponnese region and the island of Evia.

Strong winds coupled with high temperatures had caused the fire to spread rapidly, fire officials in Evia said.

Five French firemen were injured battling flames from three fires on the island of Corsica, the AFP news agency reports.

The fires, which have destroyed some 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres) of forest and bush, are believed to have been started deliberately, the regional government said.

Meanwhile, an inquiry is under way in France after a military exercise sparked a major wildfire on the outskirts of Marseille.

The fire, which threatened homes and destroyed 1,300 hectares (3,211 acres) of brush, provoked an angry reaction from both officials and residents.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon called it a "professional mistake" and local prefect Michel Sappin accused the military of "imbecilic" actions.

The officer in charge when soldiers fired tracer bullets during a training exercise has been suspended.

Widfires in southern Europe

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