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Wildfires: Hundreds evacuated in Italy's Sardinia as fires rage in Portugal and Cyprus

Firefighters battle a wildfire in Carrascal, Proenca a Nova on August 6, 2023.
Firefighters battle a wildfire in Carrascal, Proenca a Nova on August 6, 2023. Copyright PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP
Copyright PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP
By Giulia CarbonaroReuters, AP
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"The situation is truly dramatic," said one local official in Sardinia. "It's not a fair fight."

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More than 50 wildfires are tearing through the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, with strong winds fanning the flames and complicating efforts to keep the blaze under control - the same situation faced by Portugal last Saturday. 

Over 1,100 firefighters and 14 water-carrying aircraft battled a fire that had broken out in the Castelo Branco area in central Portugal on Friday, while local authorities warned that the hot and windy conditions could fan on the flames. Some 100 people living in the area were evacuated as a precautionary measure.

In Sardinia, some 600 people were evacuated from cities and towns on the east coast of the island, including residents of Posada where one fire started on Sunday. Tourists staying at camping sites, luxury resorts, hotels and nearby restaurants have also been asked to leave. 

One woman in her 70s was injured after deciding to remain inside her home in the town of Bolotana, despite raging fires. She was rescued by emergency services on Monday.

Six teams of firefighters, including 30 officers and 12 vehicles, have been deployed in the region, while several Canadair planes dropped water on the fires on Sunday - to little or no avail.

"Not a fair fight"

"Despite the huge deployment of fire officers, the situation is truly dramatic," Posada's town councillor Giorgio Fresu was quoted as saying by local media. "The wind is blowing so strongly that it's not a fair fight."

The wind is expected to lose strength through Monday, a development which should ease the firefighters' woes.

The south coast and the territory surrounding the island's main city, Cagliari, have also been affected by wildfires, fanned by winds reaching up to 100 km/h on Sunday. A protected area home to hundreds of flamingos, one of the attractions of the area and a symbol of the city, was affected. 

The mayor has announced the closure of all parks and cemeteries as a preventative measure.

As in the case of Sicily, which was recently hit by devastating wildfires that led to the temporary closure of its main airports in Palermo and Catania, the origin of the fires in Sardinia is not yet clear - though some suspect arson. On Tuesday, fire services said they found proof that the fires were sparked by yet-to-be-identified arsonists. 

The region’s president, Christian Solinas, said it cannot be ruled out that the fires were caused by a deliberate act. 

The mayor of the city of Muravera, also ravaged by blazes, was quoted by local media calling for harsh punishment for those involved, should it be proven it was arson.

The Italian government is currently working to introduce tougher sentences for arsonists in the country and is expected to present a new draft of legislation on the topic on Monday. 

Under the revised law, the sentence for wilfully sparking a fire in a forest or woodland in Italy would be increased to a minimum of 6 years - from the current minimum of 4. Those who accidentally start a fire would be punished with a jail sentence of between 1 and 2 years, meanwhile. 

Sardinia, like much of Italy, has recently been affected by extreme temperatures, reporting a record of 48C in the town of Jerzu last month. 

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ETIENNE TORBEY/AFP
Smoke billows from a fire in the Cypriot village of Paramytha, on August 6, 2023.ETIENNE TORBEY/AFP

Scientists have determined that climate change is fuelling these abnormal weather events and dramatically increases the risk of wildfires, as well as their severity. Keeping global warming to a level lower than 2C would significantly reduce the risk of wildfires, according to researchers. 

Policies to target climate change remain controversial in Italy, despite the increased urgency of the issue felt by some.

Fires ravage Cyprus as much of Portugal remains under red alert

On Monday, Portugal's capital Lisbon was added to the list of cities and towns in the country currently under a "red alert" as temperatures are expected to reach 44C. The red alert is expected to turn into an orange one by midday and last until the end of Tuesday.

The extreme heat of this summer has also been linked to the fires ravaging Cyprus, where aircraft from Greece, Jordan, and Lebanon are helping local fire services battle the flames, according to officials.

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Philippos Christou/AP
Two helicopters operate over a fire in Apesia, a semi-mountainous village near Limassol, southwestern Cyprus, Monday, Aug. 7, 2023.Philippos Christou/AP

The fire, which started on the island on Friday, had largely been contained overnight but had rekindled in several areas of the country early Monday. Agriculture and Environment Minister Petros Xenophontos described the reigniting of the fire as "something that concerns us."

“Fires are here, climate change exists and unfortunately it won't go away,” the minister told reporters. 

The fire burned around 8.5 square kilometres of land in Cyprus, according to officials.

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