Wildfires rage throughout southeastern Europe

Posted: Monday, July 10, 2000

ATHENS, Greece (AP) - Hundreds of wildfires sparked by a prolonged heat wave raged through southeastern Europe on Monday, spurring officials in Bulgaria and Greece to declare states of emergency as meteorologists forecast a new spike in temperatures.

As firefighters battled large wildfires in Bulgaria, Greece, Italy and Serbia's Kosovo province, medical services geared up for resurgent heat. Daytime temperatures in much of the region remained above 100 degrees, and some spots were expecting the mercury to approach 110 degrees Tuesday.

Two pensioners were reported dead in Italy on Monday, and 13 people died in Cyprus and Turkey over the weekend. A total of more than 50 people have died throughout the region since last week - killed by everything from heatstroke to drowning or falling off roofs while trying to cool off.

``The forecast for the coming days shows a worsening of these weather conditions,'' Greek Interior Minister Vasso Papandreou said.

The blazes have stretched the region's firefighting capabilities to the breaking point, preventing one country from helping the other.

``Look at what happened in Italy,'' Greek government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said. ``Our neighbor asked for help, but we did not have the capability of offering it because we are using our forces on our own fronts.''

Fires persisted the Italian countryside Monday. Authorities said two fires were devastating scrubland in one of Italy's most beautiful nature spots - in the mountains of the national park above the northeastern coast, near Portafino.

In Bulgaria, a state of emergency was declared in the southeast as a fire spreading on an estimated 60-mile-wide front swept through rural areas. State radio quoted Prime Minister Ivan Kostov as saying more than 1,000 acres of wheat fields and more than 10,000 acres of forest had burned. There have been a reported 1,500 fires around Bulgaria since July 3.

Fires also were burning in four of Kosovo's five military sectors. One blaze destroyed several houses near Planeja in southern Kosovo and forced the evacuation of residents. NATO said firefighters there were hampered by the large number of land mines and unexploded ordnance left over from the conflict between the Serb government and Kosovo's ethnic Albanian separatists.

In Greece, the government again made climate-controlled halls and stadiums available to people without air conditioners while nearly 5,000 firefighters battled more than 150 blazes around the country. The fires were fanned by winds and temperatures expected to rise from Monday's 102 degrees up to 109 degrees on Tuesday.

The most serious blaze was on the Aegean Sea resort island of Samos, a popular tourist destination and birthplace of the ancient mathematician Pythagoras. A state of emergency was declared there Thursday. On Monday, thousands of firefighters, soldiers and volunteers and a dozen aircraft were fighting the fire, which has so far burned about one-fifth of the island.

A state of emergency was also declared in the central Greece. In addition, firefighters fought blazes near ancient Delphi and on the Ionian Sea resort islands of Corfu and Zakynthos.

To the east, four people died of heat in Cyprus over the weekend and nine people were killed in Turkey. Five drowned as they tried to cool themselves in waterfalls, rivers and canals, two died after they rolled off roofs where they slept seeking relief and two were felled by heatstroke.

Temperatures are forecast to stay near or above 104 degrees until Wednesday, when a cold air mass breaks through a high pressure barrier that has brought hot air north from the Sahara. Average regional temperatures swing from about 86 to 95 degrees in July.

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