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European fires near record levels

Forests fires that have ravaged southern Europe during the past month were some of the worst on record, the European Commission has said.

More than 3,000 sq km (1,200 sq miles) of forest had already burned this year, almost as much as in the whole of 2006, the commission said.

It warned of more fires in the days ahead, with Spain and Portugal, where temperatures are soaring, most at risk.

Most recently, fires in the Canary Islands have forced thousands to flee.

Firefighters there are continuing to battle two major fires which have razed some 350 sq km (135 sq miles) of land in the last few days.

Experts described the fires on Tenerife and Gran Canaria as an environmental catastrophe. Some 20% of forests have been destroyed, and recovery is expected to take years.

July 2007 was one of the worst-ever months on record, according to figures from the European Forest Fire Information System, which date back some 20 years. Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece and Italy have all been affected, as well as countries like the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania and Turkey.

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