Spain: 4 die in ravaging wildfires

2012-07-23 16:01
Firefighters try to extinguish a fire in Spain.  (AFP)

Firefighters try to extinguish a fire in Spain. (AFP)

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Portbou - Hundreds of firefighters, backed by water-bombing planes, battled a wind-fuelled wildfire in northeast Spain on Monday that left four French nationals dead and trapped thousands of people indoors.

The blaze claimed its fourth life on Monday when a 64-year-old Frenchman who suffered 80% burns after his car was engulfed in flames died at a Barcelona hospital, the Catalan regional government said.

Another 23 people were injured, including eight who remain in hospital, it added.

The wildfire broke out on Sunday near the town of La Junquera and spread rapidly across the Alt Emporda region near the French border, whipped up by winds of up to 90km an hour.

Smoke from the blaze, which has so far ravaged up to 13 000ha of land, reached Barcelona, Spain's second-biggest city located some 150km south of the border.

"The fire is still raging. The winds are less strong now and aeroplanes have now swung into action," a spokesperson for the fire brigade in Catalonia said.

Firefighters, aeroplanes

About 500 firefighters backed by 22 French and Spanish water-bombing planes and helicopters were battling the blaze, emergency services said.

Officials were not able to deploy aircraft against the flames on Sunday due to the strong winds.

Firefighters struggled to prevent the fire from spreading to areas of thick vegetation which would make it more difficult to bring under control, the interior minister of Catalonia, Felip Puig, told reporters.

The fire was likely caused by a cigarette butt or small explosive device that caught fire due to "recklessness or negligence", he added.

Rene Bidal, the prefect of the southwestern French Pyrenees-Orientales frontier region, said: "On the French side the fires are under control, they are not spreading, we are in monitoring mode."

Deaths

A Frenchman and his 15-year-old daughter died on Sunday after they threw themselves into the sea to escape the approaching flames near the town of Portbou just across the border with France.

"From where they jumped you would have to project yourself about 1m to reach the sea. They probably did not jump far enough and they hit the rocks below," said Portbou mayor Jose Luis Salas-Mallol.

A 75-year-old Frenchman man died of a heart attack as he watched his house consumed by flames in the town of Llers.

Up to 4 000 people were living without power.

Officials reopened a key highway linking Barcelona to the French city of Perpignan on Monday but were forced to close it again several hours later.

Crisis-control

A high-speed rail link between Spain and France remained shut.

Firefighters ordered thousands of residents in 17 towns, including La Jonquera and Biure, to remain indoors with their windows and doors shut.

Catalan police on Sunday evacuated 93 people, including 74 children, from a camp near the town of Sant Climent Sescebes and transferred them to a nearby military base as a precaution.

Spain is at higher risk of forest fires than ever this summer after suffering its driest winter in 70 years.

Last week hundreds of people were driven from their homes on the island of Tenerife after a wildfire broke out.

The worst fire ravaged 50 000ha in the eastern Spanish region of Valencia earlier this month.

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