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Firefighters Struggle To Contain Blazes In South Europe

This image of fires burning across Greece and the Balkans was acquired by Envisat's Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) instrument on 26 July 2007 working in Full Resolution mode to provide a spatial resolution of 300 metres. Credits: ESA.

Holidaymakers evacuated amid Canary Islands fires
La Gomera (AFP) Spain, July 28 - Campers and residents in the Canary Islands had to be evacuated overnight while firemen fought two blazes which raged across several hundred hectares, regional officials said Saturday. In Tejeda, a mountainous and wooded area in the centre of Gran Canaria, 180 firemen backed up by five water-carrying helicopters battled a fire Saturday which had already destroyed more than 800 hectares (2,000 acres), a spokesman for the government environmental agency told AFP. Although the village was not under threat, four villagers and several dozen campers were evacuated during the night. The defence ministry said it had dispatched 23 soldiers to help battle the fire. A 37-year-old forest ranger arrested on suspicion of arson confessed that he started the blaze because he wanted his soon-to-be-finished work contract to be extended, police said. The man, identified as Juan Antonio Navarro Armas, was one of the first people to raise the alarm over the fire. On the small island of La Gomera, 60 people were evacuated in the hamlet of Chipude as firefighters tackled a blaze which destroyed more than 100 hectares and threatened the pristine Garajonay National Park. Most were able to return to their homes after a few hours, radio Cadena Ser reported quoting a local official, but some inhabitants had not been permitted to return by midday Saturday, according to an AFP photographer. Meteorologists stressed that the current hot dry weather on the Canary Islands and generally across Spain, where maximum temperatures reached 43 degrees Celsius (109 Fahrenheit) on the southern mainland on Saturday, were perfectly normal for the time of year.
by Staff Writers
Madrid (AFP) Jul 30, 2007
Firefighters backed by helicopters struggled Sunday to douse major forest fires across southern Europe as special prayers were held in Romania for an end to a deadly heatwave searing the continent. Firefighters staged an uphill battle to extinguish the flames which have ravaged forests in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece, as well as Spain's Canary Islands off the western coast of Africa. In Bulgaria, where 23,000 hectares (nearly 57,000 acres) of woodland have been burned in the scorching temperatures of the past week, fires continued to rage in the south and centre.

The region around Chepelare was on high alert amid warnings that the 10th century monastery of Rila -- which has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO -- could be in danger.

Bulgarian police said they have now arrested 20 people on suspicion of starting the forest fires.

Meanwhile, some 1,000 people gathered Sunday in the Romanian town of Iasi, offering prayers to seek deliverance from a heatwave that is a vast swathe of southern Europe.

The ceremony, organised by the Orthodox church, was held in the country's heat-ravaged north-east. The faithful gathered around a 30-metre (99-foot-) high cross built on a hilltop to pray for lower temperatures and much-needed rain for their crops.

Spanish authorities Sunday said a huge blaze on the Canary Islands that had swept over more than 3,500 hectares (8,750 acres) had been largely tamed.

"All fronts are now under control expect for one," a local government environmental agency spokeswoman said, adding that it should be completely under control by Sunday night.

Around 200 firefighters, army and civil protection workers and 10 helicopters were mobilised to fight the blaze which had ravaged a wooded, mountainous but sparsely inhabited part of the island.

A 37-year-old forestry worker who was one of the first to raise the alarm was arrested and said to have confessed to having started the fire because he wanted his work contract, which expires in September, to be extended.

A separate fire on the small island of La Gomera, which destroyed 180 hectares, was under control., Several hamlets had to be evacuated because of the fire which threatened the Garajonay national park, on UNESCO's list of heritage sites since 1986 because of its unique flora.

On mainland Spain, a fire which broke out on a military firing range in Andalusia had scorched about 3,500 hectares as well.

In Greece, five fires were burning Sunday in the northwestern areas of Ioannina, Florina, Kozani, Pieria and Thesprotia, where some 300 firefighters were deployed to control them.

Fires which have been burning in recent days in other parts of the country appeared to be dying down, Greek officials said. Four people have been arrested on suspicion of deliberately setting fires around Greece.

Parts of Italy remained on high alert, but firefighters said the level of threat had gone down slightly.

More than 250 firefighters were deployed Sunday to fight fires in forests across central and southern Portugal where temperatures in some areas crossed 42 degrees Celsius (108 Fahrenheit), officials said.

The Portuguese government had said in May that it was bracing for potentially deadlier summer fires than those of last year when nearly 75,000 hectares were burnt to the ground.

Parts of Italy remained on high alert, but firefighters said the level of threat had declined marginally.

Several small fires continued to burn in the Pollino national park in the south, and new outbreaks were reported near Bologna in the north, in the Abruzzo and Marche regions of the centre, in Campania in the south, as well as in the Lazio region around Rome.

earlier related report
Floods And Fires Across Europe Captured From Space
Paris, France (ESA) Jul 29 - Highlighting the extreme weather conditions hitting Europe, space sensors aboard ESA's Envisat satellite have detected the worst floodwaters to hit Britain for 60 years and deadly fires raging through southern Europe. Heavy rains caused the River Thames to burst its banks on Wednesday, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of homes in Britain's university city of Oxford. The flooding across England and Wales has left tens of thousands without electricity and water.

The Environment Agency still has three severe flood warnings in place - two on the Thames around Oxford and one on the Ock River near Oxfordshire. In areas where flooding is beginning to recede, sanitation officials are warning of health risks posed by stagnant waters.

Flooding is estimated to be the world's most costly kind of natural disaster. The flooding of June and July in the UK is expected to cost the insurance industry at least pound2 billion, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI). Floods Minister John Healey said recovery and clean-up efforts could take a number of months.

One of the biggest problems during flooding emergencies is obtaining an overall view of the phenomenon, with a clear idea of the extent of the flooded area. Aerial observation is often very difficult due to prohibitive weather conditions and, if the phenomenon is widespread, would be very time-consuming and expensive.

With inundated areas typically visible from space, Earth Observation (EO) is increasingly being used for flood response and mitigation. In October 2000, ESA and the French space agency (CNES) initiated the International Charter on 'Space and Major Disasters', a joint initiative for providing emergency response satellite data free of charge to those affected by disasters anywhere in the world. On 24 July, the UK Environment Agency requested the aid of the Charter.

Heat and fire
While Britain fights floods, southern European countries are battling blazes and searing temperatures that have surpassed 40 degrees Celsius, spawning fires in Greece, Italy and Macedonia.

Fire fighters battled some 1500 blazes within a 24-hour period in parts of central and southern Italy over the weekend. On Tuesday in Italy's southern region of Puglia, thousands of tourists fled to beaches to escape a fast-burning fire and had to be rescued via boats and helicopters. Local media reports two elderly locals were killed trying to escape the flames.

On Thursday, fires continued to rage across Calabria and Abruzzo as strong winds thwarted fire-fighting efforts. According to the environmental group WWF, at least 4500 hectares of protected areas have burned in the past three weeks in Italy, with the hardest hit areas being Campania, Abruzzo, Calabria, Sicily and Puglia.

Although searing temperatures and tinder dry conditions are to blame for some of the fires, on Wednesday Italian politicians and forestry officials blamed some on arsonists.

On Thursday some 200 fires were reported burning across Greece, where temperatures have been as high as 45 C, with more than a dozen burning out of control. Peloponnese and the island of Cephalonia in the Adriatic off the peninsula's northwest coast are among the worst hit areas.

Major fires are visible from space - satellites detect not only the smoke billowing from major conflagrations but also the burn scars left in their wake and even the fires themselves - appearing as 'hotspots' when scanning the Earth's surface in infrared wavelengths.

For a decade now, ESA satellites have been continuously surveying fires burning across the Earth's surface. Worldwide fire maps based on this data are now available to users online in near-real time through ESA's ATSR World Fire Atlas (WFA).

The WFA data are based on results from the Along Track Scanning Radiometer (ATSR) instrument onboard ESA's ERS-2 satellite and the Advanced Along Track Scanning Radiometer (AATSR) onboard Envisat. These twin radiometer sensors work like thermometers in the sky, measuring thermal infrared radiation to take the temperature of Earth's land surfaces.

earlier related report
Temperatures Cool But Fires Still Rage Across Southern Europe
Sofia (AFP) July 28 - An extreme heatwave that has roasted southern Europe for a week eased Saturday, but a raft of wildfires that followed in its wake continued to rage and some countries began rounding up suspected arsonists. In Bulgaria, where 23,000 hectares (57,000 acres) of forest and farmland have burned over the past week as the country experienced its hottest temperatures since records began -- reaching above 45 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) -- some 7,000 firefighters and 2,500 army troops battled the blazes.

Many fires had been brought under control but about 3,000 hectares were still ablaze in the southern region of Maglizh, while 11 houses burned down in one village near Kyustendil in the west. Press reports also said four people had died in fire-related incidents, but this could not immediately be confirmed.

Bulgarian police meanwhile said they had arrested 14 suspected arsonists. Firefighters were also still battling at least 30 forest fires across Macedonia Saturday, most of them near the capital Skopje.

Six helicopters sent from Germany, Slovenia and Turkey were helping quell the flames, while planes were also being sent from Norway, Russia and Turkey.

While the week-long heatwave that has fanned flames across southern Europe was abating in most places and temperatures gradually returned to normal for the season, forecasts predicted the searing temperatures in Macedonia would continue through Monday.

President Branko Crvenkovski asked his Serbian counterpart Boris Tadic for assistance after the wildfires abated in his country.

In Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo however, NATO's KFOR peacekeepers joined firefighters to extinguish several wildfires, and sent six helicopters to quell some brush fires near the western town of Popovac.

In Greece, five fires were still burning in the northwest of the country, involving nearly 300 firefighters, around 60 trucks, four planes and four helicopters.

The wildfires in Achaia in the Peloponnese, which since Tuesday have destroyed around 100 homes and properties, laid waste to more than 15,000 hectares and killed three elderly villagers who did not flee the area, were also "shrinking back," authorities said. Russia sent another two fire-fighting helicopters to Greece, and a Russian plane was expected to arrive Sunday.

Across southern Italy, where thousands of hectares of national park land have been torched by the past week's fires, the situation had vastly improved, authorities said.

In Calabria firefighters were however still battling blazes threatening several scattered homes, while further north in Campania, helicopters were trying to quell a blaze that for days has been roaring through a forest north of Naples.

Italy on Friday declared a state of disaster for its worst-affected areas in the centre and south of the country, while authorities said around 10 people had been arrested on suspicion of arson.

In Romania, where several hundred hectares have been turned to ashes in the past 48 hours, the capital and eight southern counties were placed on high fire alert amid continued scorching temperatures.

In Slovakia, about 70 firefighters were on Saturday still battling flames that broke out when lightning struck down in the heatwave-parched eastern national park Slovensky Raj (Slovakian Paradise) on July 22.

In Croatia, only one wildfire that has been burning in the national park on the Velebit mountain since Thursday was still raging, and some 200 firefighters backed by water-bomber planes were battling the flames.

And in Spain's Canary Islands, campers and residents were evacuated overnight while firefighters fought two blazes that scorched up to 1,000 hectares.

In Tejeda in the centre of Gran Canaria, 180 firemen backed up by five helicopters battled a fire which had already destroyed more than 800 hectares, an official said, adding arsonists might be to blame.

On the small island of La Gomera, 60 people were also evacuated as firefighters tackled a blaze which destroyed at least 150 hectares and threatened the pristine Garajonay National Park.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Heatwave Turns Southeastern Europe Into Tinderbox As Fires Rage
Rome (AFP) July 25, 2007
Southeastern Europe was a tinderbox Wednesday in the grip of an unrelenting heatwave that has claimed hundreds of lives as wildfires swept Italy and bit into a national park in Slovakia. Italy was sweltering under temperatures close to 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in places Wednesday and suffering devastating wildfires in central and southern regions. "We've had 85 calls so far already for airborne intervention against fires," a public safety official told AFP in the afternoon as fires raged in the Abruzzo, Latium, Calabria, Sicily and Sardinia regions.

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