Forest fires rage across Europe

Spain’s prime minister has broken off his holiday to inspect the devastation caused by forest fires raging on the Canary Islands which have forced thousands to flee their homes.


In Greece, firefighters supported by water-dropping planes were battling forest fires in the southern Peloponnese peninsula and northeast region of Kavala on Sunday.

The two countries have been among the worst hit by wildfires that have swept across southern Europe in the past two weeks amid sizzling temperatures and fierce winds.

About 500 firefighters, forest rangers and soldiers fought the flames on Spain’s small holiday island of La Palma as planes dumped water in an effort to bring the blazes under control.

Fanned by strong winds, the fires have now destroyed between 1,500 and 2,000 hectares of pine forest since they broke out on Friday night, local authority president Guadalupe Gonzalez Tano told reporters.

Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who began his summer holiday on Sunday on the neighbouring Canary island of Lanzarote, flew in a Spanish air force plane to La Palma.

Accompanied by local officials, he then travelled to one of the areas affected.

The fire was spreading on two fronts, down from three fronts on Saturday when the fast-moving inferno forced about 4,000 people to evacuate their homes.

The wind direction also changed and was now blowing against the progress of the fire, local authorities said, adding that they hoped to bring the blaze under control on Sunday.

In addition, one of the two fronts was heading towards a sparsely forested area of volcanic rock, which would act as a natural firewall, they said.

But one blaze close to the southeastern town of Mazo remained out of control.

La Palma, home to about 85,000 people, is the fifth largest of the seven islands in the Canaries archipelago, located in the Atlantic off the coast of Morocco and a popular tourist destination.

But the volcanic island is relatively undeveloped compared with some of its neighbours, such as the islands of Gran Canaria and Tenerife.

Meanwhile, authorities in Spain’s northeastern region of Aragon said fires were still raging near the town of Calatayud and had destroyed about 700 hectares of forest.

Police have arrested two people in connection with that blaze, which broke out on Saturday, they said.

Since the start of this year, fires have ravaged about 75,000 hectares of land in Spain, almost double the number for the whole of last year.

Of that, about 45,000 hectares were destroyed in the past two weeks.

Eight people, six of them firefighters, have died in the fires on the Spanish mainland since July.

In Greece, four planes, one helicopter, 11 vehicles and 46 firefighters battled a pine forest fire as strong winds fanned the flames in a hard-to-reach area on the Peloponnese’s Menalon mountain, the firefighters’ press service said.

The civil protection agency raised the fire-risk alert to its second highest level in several parts of Greece, including Athens, due to high temperatures reaching 35 degrees celsius, drought and strong winds.