The Latest: Poor visibility hurts wildfire fight in Portugal
Jul. 26, 2017
PARIS (AP) — The Latest on wildfires in southern France, Italy and Portugal (all times local):
Emergency services in Portugal are getting no respite from wildfires that are charring wide areas of forest — and the huge billowing clouds of smoke they are generating are making visibility too poor to use water-dropping aircraft.
More than 2,300 firefighters with more than 700 vehicles are battling 13 blazes. The flames are being driven by powerful winds across steep hillsides of dense pine and eucalyptus forest Wednesday.
The worst-hit areas are in the center of Portugal, 200 kilometers (125 miles) northeast of Lisbon. The fires briefly forced the evacuation of some hamlets there and the closure of a section of the A23 highway.
Portugal's peak fire season, which usually occurs after July 1, began early this year amid a severe drought. Last month, 64 people died in a wildfire.
More than 2,000 firefighters are battling nine major wildfires in Portugal, where drought conditions, high temperatures and strong winds are fueling the flames.
Almost 1,000 other firefighters are conducting mopping-up operations at 37 other Portuguese woodland blazes Wednesday.
Ash floated in the air and vast plumes of smoke covered areas of central Portugal, in the area around Serta, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) northeast of Lisbon. The Civil Protection Agency said 24 water-dropping aircraft were in action.
Serta is close to Pedrogao Grande, where 64 people died in a wildfire last month. No injuries have been reported in recent days as the blazes raced through thick eucalyptus and pine forests.
Large wildfires are a common occurrence in summer in Portugal, where thousands of firefighters are on duty in the summer months.
Albania's interior ministry says that some 130 firefighters are battling 18 fire spots around the country Wednesday.
Spokesman Ardian Bita says fires are blazing in five western and central districts, damaging 15 hectares (37 acres) of pastures, vineyards and dozens of olive trees.
Firefighters, military personnel and local authorities have been fighting about a dozen wildfires every day in Albania since the end of June. No injuries have yet been reported.
Authorities have arrested several people accused of starting fires.
"Compared to a year ago we have increased public awareness and have also had better communication with the communities and local authorities," said Bita.
Wildfires are burning across swaths of central and southern Italy, aided by the region's drought and high temperatures, but authorities say most have been caused by arson.
Civil protection authorities said they responded Tuesday to 26 requests for water and fire retardant airdrops throughout central and southern Italy, including in Calabria, Sicily, Sardinia, Lazio and Puglia.
There were no reports of imminent threats to population areas on Wednesday.
The fires have been raging for weeks, causing periodic evacuations and devastating large areas of forest and pasture. The Coldiretti agriculture lobby says 50 million bees were destroyed along with their hives in fires on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. Coldiretti said another 20 percent of the bee population is estimated to have become disoriented from the smoke of the fires and died as a result.
This item has been corrected to show that flames killed 50 million bees in Italy, not 50 billion.
Firefighters have stepped up their battle against flames lapping at Mediterranean forests in the picturesque French hilltop town of Bormes-Les-Mimosas, where at least 10,000 people were evacuated.
Col. Eric Martin, of the firefighting unit in the Var region of the Cote d'Azur, said on Wednesday that nearly 600 firefighters were trying to contain the flames that had run through 1,300 hectares of Bormes, a magnet for tourists in southeastern France. At least 3,000 of the evacuees were campers.
The Bormes blaze was morphing into the largest in the area. Firefighters also were fighting a large blaze in nearby La Londes-Les-Maures.
The Toulon airport to the west was briefly closed.
Numerous blazes have been hopscotching along the Cote d'Azur since Monday.
Almost 1,700 firefighters supported by 17 water-dropping aircraft are tackling wildfires in Portugal, where every summer large areas of woodland are scorched.
The Portuguese Civil Protection Agency says Wednesday that emergency services have brought more than 20 other forest blazes under control as high winds calmed down during the night.
The worst fires were around the town of Macao, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) northeast of Lisbon, where deputy mayor Antonio Louro said the damage to livelihoods of local farmers was "catastrophic."
Many people in the area make their living from the local pine and eucalyptus forests, which are bone dry after months without significant rainfall.
More than 70 percent of Portugal is enduring a severe drought.
The top official of France's Var region on the Mediterranean coast says that 10,000 people were evacuated as blazes hopscotching around the Riviera tore through the town of La Londe-les-Maures.
The prefecture said in a statement on Wednesday that a violent fire took off just before 11 p.m. the night before, and 540 firefighters were sent in to the region.
The statement said that some 10,000 people — about 3,000 of them campers — were evacuated from La Londe and nearby Bormes and La Lavandou.
Four tracker planes and a fire-fighting aircraft were sent in. About 800 hectares of back-country forest had burned by morning.
Fires began raging along the coast on Monday, forcing smaller, scattered evacuations with flames reaching a corner of Saint-Tropez.