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Forest fires destroy 800 hectares in Latvia

Blaze of fire

Fires raging for five days have destroyed more than 800 hectares (2,000 acres) of western Latvia, authorities said Sunday, with continuing extremely high temperatures hampering firefighters’ efforts.

Satellite images showed the fires have wiped out 170 acres of forest, 257 hectares of scrubland and nearly 400 hectares of peatland.

A peat fire in the Courland region broke out last Tuesday and spread eastwards, with the smoke noticeable in the resort town of Jurmala, more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) away in the neighbouring Riga region.

“Peatland fires burn downward, but when there’s wind, which brings oxygen, the fires can erupt into flames,” Latvian fire services spokesman Inta Palkavniece told reporters.

“The main goal is to prevent the fires from spreading,” he added.

The Courland region is sparsely populated, with few roads and many areas inaccessible because of its vast marshes.

Residents of Stikli, a village that was evacuated because of the fire, began to return home after the wind changed “of their own accord”, the mayor of its municipality Ventspils, Aivars Mucenieks, told reporters.

Pupils of a school for handicapped children in Stikli will not return until the situation is fully under control, he added.

Meteorologists warned that the high temperatures are persisting and no rain is expected for the next two weeks.

Latvia has experienced severe drought over the last few months, prompting authorities to declare a natural catastrophe in the agricultural sector.

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