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'A disaster without precedent': Sardinia wildfires ravage west of Italian island

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AFP/The Local - [email protected]
'A disaster without precedent': Sardinia wildfires ravage west of Italian island
A Canadair works to extinguish fire on Monte Arci in Sardinia on July 23, 2009. One person was killed in a forest fire on the Italian island of Sardinia and another was missing, while authorities evacuated homes and a beach due to approaching flames, officials said. Temperatures had reached 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit) in some areas of Sardinia and strong winds had fuelled the flames. In Capo Pecora in the island's southwest, three helicopters and four civil protection speedboats had to evacuate some 120 beachgoers because of approaching fire. AFP PHOTO / ALESSANDRA CHERGIA (Photo by ALESSANDRA CHERGIA / AFP)

More than 1,000 people were forced to flee and some 20,000 hectares destroyed as wildfires swept the Italian island of Sardinia for three days straight.

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"It's a disaster without precedent," the island's governor Christian Solinas said, as hot southwesterly winds complicated the efforts to put out blazes raging in the west of the island and the region declared a state of emergency.

Nearly 1,500 people were evacuated from their homes over the weekend, including residents of a care home, according to Ansa news agency.

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Frightened tourists were among those fleeing the seaside village of Porto Alabe.

Canadair planes could be seen collecting water off the coast of Porto Alabe, before flying low over beachfront properties and emptying it over the blazing vegetation just behind them.

The flames are believed to have broken out near the village of Bonarcado in the province of Oristano on Friday when a car caught fire in a traffic accident. Winds and hot, dry conditions meant that the fire rapidly spread inland and then down towards the coast.

About 20,000 hectares of vegetation had gone up in flames, with properties damaged and animals killed, Solinas said.

Firefighting aircraft from France and Greece arrived in Italy on Sunday following an appeal for help in taming the fires.

Italy's Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said that the civil protection agency had appealed for planes from other European countries. 

A vast area in Oristano province was "on its knees due to the devastating fire", he said.

 

By Monday morning the fire danger level remained "high", said the civil protection agency, which issued a warning for swathes of the central- and north-western coast. 

About 7,500 emergency workers, including members of Italy's forest police and the Red Cross, were helping evacuees and those at risk, the fire service said.

Solinas said it was too early to know the extent of the destruction but he would ask the government to allocate recovery fund money for reforestation.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi is following the situation and sent his "full solidarity to everyone affected and support for all those tirelessly doing their best in the rescue efforts", his office said in a statement.

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