As AIN went to press, the severity of the 2003 forest fire season was repeating, as feared, in Europe as well as in the western U.S. Blazes in forest and scrub land were causing havoc, particularly in France, Portugal, Spain and, on the eve of the Olympic Games, in Greece.
Helicopters and airplanes bore the brunt of the firefighting work. In Portugal, where temperatures peaked at 40 degrees C (104 degrees F), fires started in the southern Algarve region and in the north near Porto and Villa Real. Another blaze was reported at Cascais, the base of Helicopter Portugal (August, page 62). During July, the company’s fleet of 11 helicopters logged more than 600 hours.
French officials believe many of the fires in the south of France were started deliberately. French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin said arson was to blame for brush fires near Marseilles. “Criminals are behind this,” he told the BBC Online. “We can see that because the fires started next to the highway.
We have already made some arrests. We want to bring those responsible for these fires to justice.”