Disasters & Accidents

Firefighters in Spain, France make progress as heat eases but Italy struggles

Madrid Desk, Jul 21 (EFE).- The scorching heat wave gripping Europe eased Thursday, allowing firefighters tackling wildfires across multiple countries to regain control of many of the largest active blazes.

The improved weather conditions, in particular in terms of wind, in Spain have tipped the balance back in favor of firefighters, allowing for many who were evacuated from their homes to return.

The worst fires in Galicia have already burned 29,565 hectares (73,056 acres), mostly in Carballeda de Valdeorras (Ourense), where 10,500 have burned and the fire is still active.

In Zaragoza, the fire in Ateca was evolving “favorably”, although it has not yet been stabilized and the 1,700 evacuated residents will not be allowed to return to their homes just yet.

“We are better than yesterday, without any doubt” and weather forecasts suggest that the firefighting operation can go about its work “with certain guarantees of success,” said the president of Aragon, Javier Lambán.

In Zamora, the fire declared on Sunday, which has claimed two lives, has burned at least 20,000 hectares and forced the evacuation of about 6,000 residents, has been stabilized.

But authorities will keep a level 2 alert in place due to the risk of a resurgence because of the persistent high temperatures, wind and broad area affected by the fire.

In Avila, north of the capital Madrid, where the town of El Hoyo de Pinares was evacuated on Monday, the favorable progress of a fire that broke out last week means over 2,000 residents can start planning to return to their homes.

Spain’s King Felipe VI discussed the nationwide situation and firefighting efforts on Thursday with prime minister Pedro Sánchez, and the regional president of Castile and León, Alfonso Fernández Mañueco, during an appearance to mark the inauguration of a high-speed train to Burgos.

In southwest France, two fires that broke out on July 12 south of Bordeaux have not spread for at least two days, although firefighters still consider the blazes, which have burned some 20,800 hectares of pine forest, to be active.

On its Twitter account, the regional government said Thursday that there had been “no notable changes” overnight, although firefighters have had to deal with some fires that have rekindled and work continues with heavy machinery on the perimeters of the blazes.

Authorities have warned that 37,000 people evacuated since the beginning of the crisis can not yet return to their homes or tourist campsites.

“We will not take any risk”, sub-prefect of Arcachon, Ronan Léaustic, insisted in remarks to local media, emphasizing that preventive evacuations have avoided any fatalities.

The most devastating fire in terms of area burned is in Landiras, southeast of Bordeaux, with 13,800 hectares and a perimeter of 66 kilometers.

On the second front at La Teste de Buch, a popular tourist area in the Bassin d’Arcachon near the coast, there have been 7,000 hectares burned and more than 20,000 people evacuated.

While the situation in France and Spain is improving, at least 25 fires in Italy are still spreading as the heat wave moves east across the continent.

In the last 24 hours, Civil Protection managed to extinguish 11 of them, although the work continues, according to the latest bulletin.

The most concerning are the outbreaks in the Massarosa hills, near Lucca in Tuscany, where 868 hectares have burned and 1,000 people have been evacuated, and the active fire on the Carso plateau, on the Slovenian border.

The situation is exacerbated by the high temperatures affecting the region in recent days and which will last until the end of the month, with peaks of up to 42C (107.6F).

On Thursday, 14 major Italian cities activated the maximum emergency level, including the capital Rome, Bologna, Florence, Genoa, Milan and Turin, according to the ministry of health.

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