European wildfires rage abated

ROME: Wildfires that have swept through southern Europe from Spain to Greece, killing eight people, abated in some areas on Saturday but remained a threat with heatwaves continuing, officials said.

Italian firefighters were battling some 17 blazes with unfavourable weather conditions fanning the flames mainly in the southern regions, while in Greece where the fire situation has calmed down officials were still on alert as high temperatures raised the risk triggering new fires.

In Spain meanwhile most of the wildfires which have destroyed more than 17,000 hectares (42,000 acres) around the country were under control.

With the fires mainly on the Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily, and in the southern Calabria region, officials said they were looking "for a drop in temperatures and other factors to help stop the fires from spreading and fanning flames", Luigi D'Angelo of Italy's civil protection force told the ANSA news agency.

Some 1,500 firefighters and volunteers have been pressed into service to combat the fires with the help of eight Canadairs water-dropping planes and 11 helicopters.

D'Angelo stressed that the fires posed "no particular danger for people because they are in forest areas".

But in Sardinia, where fires have raged for the past three days, a 58-year-old shepherd and a 56-year-old rancher were killed Wednesday trying to protect their animals from the flames.

Investigations into what caused the fires have found that one of the most devastating blazes on Sardinia was deliberately set.

"Anger over such a catastrophe to nature is even greater when you find out there was a human hand behind the fires. It is unacceptable that in our region there are still criminal minds capable of such acts," said the head of the Sardinian region, Ugo Cappellacci, at the funeral of one of the fire victims.

Spain has suffered the biggest loss of life in southern Europe's wildfires with the death of six firefighters this week.

In Spain's worst-hit region of Aragon in the northeast, five of seven fires were under control, with fire officials expecting to get the upper hand on the other two on Saturday, the regional government said.

Fires were also at the point of being controlled in the central-east province of Cuenca and in Almeria, a province in southern Andalusia and a popular tourist destination.

On the French Mediterranean island of Corsica, winds hampered the efforts of firefighters to contain a blaze near the village of Aullene, where some 2,900 hectares have already been destroyed.

"We are not evacuating but the fire is within 10 metres (33 feet) of the houses," said one resident, Lucienne Gaspari, who was hosing down her home like the other villagers.

She said that water-dropping planes had put out the fire but the winds whipped it up again.

"After two days, it is becoming difficult. The firefighters are on all fronts and the people are calm, but the fire is everywhere," she said.

In Greece, two forest fires on the island of Crete which broke out Friday were under control by mid-day Saturday, authorities said.

But they have called on firefighters to remain in place and vigilant because the country was vulnerable to new eruptions of fire with temperatures climbing above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

According to the weather service, some relief may be in sight with temperatures lowering by Sunday evening and returning to normal ranges for the summer by early next week.