Albania battles coastal forest fires, arrests four

QEPARO, Albania (Reuters) – Albanian police said they had arrested four people in the past 24 hours for causing fires as soldiers and firefighters were deployed in coastal tourist areas to fight spreading forest blazes.

Many farmers in Albania set fire to cultivated fields to clear stubble, weeds and waste before sowing a new crop. In July Albania has identified and charged 14 people with starting wildfires.

Two farmers were arrested for causing a fire close to the tourist village of Qeparo leaving dozens of hectares burning and endangering houses and olive tree plantations.

Police released drone footage of two policemen running after one of the men on a hill and eventually arresting him.

The Albanian army said it had sent 40 soldiers to help local authorities fight the fire, carrying shovels and water on their backs on top of a hill.

Local and foreign tourists watched an army helicopter collect water from the Ionian Sea to pour on the blaze, although most were continuing their vacations unhindered.

Police said two people in the eastern town of Elbasan were also arrested for burning their land after the fire went out of control and spread to other areas.

Police appealed citizens not to “light any fire under any circumstances because this action constitutes a crime and punishable by law.”

Albania’s ministry of defense said 95 fires were reported in the first two weeks of August.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci and Florion Goga; Editing by Toby Chopra)