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Firefighters struggle to contain blazes in south Europe

Photo: A member of the new military team "Unidad Militar de Emergencia" (Emergency Military Team) looks at a fire burning in Cercado on the Spanish Canary Island of Gran Canaria.(AFP/Desiree Martin)

MADRID (AFP) - Firefighters backed by helicopters struggled Sunday to douse major forest fires across southern Europe as special prayers were held in Romania for an end to a deadly heatwave searing the continent.

Firefighters staged an uphill battle to extinguish the flames which have ravaged forests in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece, as well as Spain's Canary Islands off the western coast of Africa.

In Bulgaria, where 23,000 hectares (nearly 57,000 acres) of woodland have been burned in the scorching temperatures of the past week, fires continued to rage in the south and centre. Photo:This image of fires burning across Greece and the Balkans was acquired by Envisat's Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) instrument on 26 July 2007 Credits: ESA.

The region around Chepelare was on high alert amid warnings that the 10th century monastery of Rila -- which has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO -- could be in danger.

Bulgarian police said they have now arrested 20 people on suspicion of starting the forest fires.

Meanwhile, some 1,000 people gathered Sunday in the Romanian town of Iasi, offering prayers to seek deliverance from a heatwave that is a vast swathe of southern Europe. Click

The ceremony, organised by the Orthodox church, was held in the country's heat-ravaged north-east.

The faithful gathered around a 30-metre (99-foot-) high cross built on a hilltop to pray for lower temperatures and much-needed rain for their crops.
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