Forest fires continue to rage across southern Europe

Four people have died in forest fires on Portugal's Madeira Island, as wildfires in France force thousands to flee.

    Wildfires continue to rage across southern Europe, forcing thousands of people to leave their houses.

    At least four people have died and 80 people have been hospitalised for burns and smoke inhalation from forest fires on Portugal's holiday island of Madeira.

    Portugal urged its European partners on Wednesday to help in battling multiple blazes on the island, where flames have damaged houses and a hotel and forced nearly 1,000 people to flee their homes.

    The fires began on Monday night in the hills surrounding Funchal, the island capital.

    The situation worsened dramatically the following day as strong winds fanned the flames, spreading the blaze to other parts of the city.

    READ MORE: Wildfires rage across Madeira Islands

    Firefighters worked through the night, training jets of water high on to the orange flames against the dark night sky in Funchal's narrow streets to try to protect its historic heart. 

    By Wednesday evening the situation on Madeira appeared to be mostly under control, though forest fires continued to rage on mainland Portugal.

    'Complex but not catastrophic'

    The president of the Madeira region, Miguel Albuquerque, said the fire was still burning on several fronts but was "under control". 

    "The situation is complex but not catastrophic," he told reporters.

    Fires began in the hills around Funchal late on Monday, but significantly worsened 24 hours later after they were fanned by strong winds.

    A vast ball of smoke was seen above Funchal the following day, and flames cast an orange glow in the evening sky, prompting locals to photograph the scene from surrounding hills.

    Civilians and police officers used water buckets to help extinguish the forest fire near houses at Sao Joao Latrao, Funchal. [Duarte Sa/ Reuters]

    "Roughly 1,000 people had to be evacuated from homes and hotels," among both residents and tourists, Funchal mayor Paulo Cafofo said, according to Lusa news agency.

    Hospitals and old people's homes were evacuated as flames advanced on built-up areas of the autonomous island region.

    Around 600 people were holed up in a Portuguese military base, sleeping on camp beds, and 300 were evacuated to the Barreiros stadium, Cafofo said.

    Southern France battles bush fires 

    Meanwhile, France mobilised 1,500 firefighters on Wednesday to tackle wildfires in the countryside north of Marseille that have gutted buildings and forced more than 1,000 people to flee their homes.

    Whipped up by strong winds, the blaze took hold around 3:30pm (13:30 GMT) and has since spread over 2,260 hectares (5,600 acres) of scrubland, grass and some wooded areas, according to firefighters.

    Homes were destroyed in the town of Vitrolles, some 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of Marseille [Philippe Laurenson/Reuters]

    "We haven't seen a situation like this for a very long time," the fire service said, first calling the wildfires "out of control" before describing more favourable conditions in the night.

    Homes were destroyed in the town of Vitrolles, some 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of Marseille, with more than 1,000 people forced to seek shelter in local sports centres.

    Further west in Herault, four firefighters were injured battling another blaze after their vehicle was surrounded by flames.

    Hundreds of extra firefighters have been drafted in from other parts of France to help tackle the blaze.

    Road and air transport were badly affected by the fire on Wednesday evening. Two motorways were closed and several flights at Marseille airport were cancelled.

    Last week, a park ranger died and about 700 people were evacuated after a wildfire blazed out of control on the Spanish island of La Palma.

    Francisco Jose Santana, a married father of five, was killed while fighting the fire, which started last Wednesday.

    Spanish police said they had arrested a 27-year-old German man who, according to a source from the investigation, admitted to accidentally starting the fire. Spanish media reported that he had tried to burn used toilet paper.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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