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Holidaymakers rescued as fires spread across Europe

Deadly summer wild fires spread across Spain, France, Italy and Greece on Friday with holidaymakers rescued from beaches and thousands of firefighters brought into the battle.

world Updated: Jul 24, 2009 17:38 IST

Deadly summer wild fires spread across Spain, France, Italy and Greece on Friday with holidaymakers rescued from beaches and thousands of firefighters brought into the battle.

At least seven people are known to have died in the fires in three days. A Spanish fireman and a shepherd and a farmer on the Italian island of Sardinia were the latest fatalities.

Helicopters and civil protection boats plucked about 120 people to safety from a beach at Capo Pecora in the southwest of Sardinia on Thursday night after they became trapped by flames.

Near Cagliari, the main city, inmates from a prison spent the night on a beach because fire threatened the penitentiary.

Some 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) of forest and brush are estimated to have been destroyed by six separate fires on Sardinia. Hundreds of firefighters backed by Canadair water planes tried to bring them under control on Friday.

On Thursday, a 58-year-old shepherd died in the northern Sassari region as he attempted to rescue his flock. In the same region a cattle farmer died of a heart attack as he tried to escape the fires.

Spain has also suffered, losing five firefighters over the last four days and about 10,600 hectares of land to the flames, particularly in Teruel province in the northeast.

The driver of a firefighters' truck was killed in the province on Thursday after his vehicle became engulfed. Four were killed in Catalonia on Tuesday.

A major new fire broke out at Sierra de Cabrera in Almeria province and 1,500 people were evacuated from their homes. Summer winds have fanned flames during the the hot dry weather, authorities said.

Five French firemen were injured battling three fires that have destroyed about 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres) of forest and bush on the island of Corsica. Ten houses and about 50 cars have been destroyed.

A fire service officer said two fires, including one near the main city of Ajjaccio, were spreading but the third had been brought under control. The regional government said the fires were suspected to have been deliberately started.

Jean-Jacques Panuzzi, head of the Corsican regional council, said seven or eight of the 12 fires reported on Thursday were "criminal".

On the French mainland, the French army faced flak after a military exercise sparked a wildfire on the outskirts of Marseille.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon condemned what he called "a professional mistake," after the blaze tore through 1,300 hectares (3,211 acres) of brush and damaged homes near the Mediterranean city.

"Tracer rounds are outlawed, not only during this period but in principle in all the camps in the south," a region more prone to forest fires, the prime minister said, announcing that a probe was underway.

Defence Minister Herve Morin called it an "extremely regrettable, deplorable act."

The fire erupted Wednesday after troops from the 1st Foreign Legion Regiment used tracer rounds, which contain an incendiary substance to make them visible in flight, during a practice session at their base.

The blaze was contained by dawn Thursday, but this did little to calm local officials, who noted that it was the second time in as many years the army had started a wildfire.

Local prefect Michel Sappin, the French government's senior regional official and police chief, blasted the "imbecilic" actions of the military.

Several fires broke out in Greece, mainly in the southern Peloponnese and on the island of Evia, destroying forests and farms.

In Turkey, more than 200 firefighters battled through the night to control a blaze which started on a dump but spread to a wood in the resort of Bodrum, the Anatolia news agency said.