Four killed in Spanish wildfires
Two large forest fires raging in the border area between France and northern Catalonia in Spain since Sunday have killed a fourth person, local authorities said today, as strong winds hindered efforts to control the blaze.
All four victims are French, the government of Catalonia and the fire service said. The fourth to die was a 64-year-old man who died today from burn injuries.
A father and his 15-year-old daughter died yesterday after trying to escape the flames down a cliffside in Portbou, a coastal town where one of the fires broke out.
A man died of a heart attack further inland near La Junquera, a border town at the centre of the biggest fire.
The area includes the Costa Brava, one of the most popular beach destinations in Spain, and major motorways for holidaymakers driving to and from southern France.The Catalan government said at least 23 people had been injured.The fire now affects an area of 13,000 hectares inland, and has burned through about 200 hectares near Portbou.
Some 150,000 residents in the inland area have been told to stay at home, and ashes from the blaze have begun to reach the Barcelona area.Winds of 6-7 kilometres an hour spread the fire, although there are hopes these will weaken later in the day.
"Everything indicates that this originated from the imprudence of people, probably through cigarettes that have not been properly stubbed out and which are thrown out of windows," said Catalan premier Artur Mas.
Train services in the region were suspended and several cross-border roads linking Barcelona with France were closed because of the advancing flames, regional government spokesman Felip Puig said yesterday. Spain’s rail company Renfe said international high speed trains linking Catalonia with France using the Portbou and Pertus tunnels through the Pyrenees mountains had been cancelled.
The fire service said in a statement that more than 80 teams had been deployed to combat the wildfires, which appear to have started close to the border with France.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that it had sent three specially equipped aircraft and an emergency unit from Zaragoza to aid Catalan firefighters.
The fires are the area's most devastating for well over 20 years, the local government said, and Environment Ministry data show 2012 is already the worst year for forest fires in Spain for over a decade.
In Greece, a wildfire swept through forests near Athens on Thursday, forcing residents to use garden hoses and tree branches to keep the flames away from their homes. The blaze, fanned by strong winds forced people to evacuate their homes, said fire service officials, though there were no reports of injuries.
"It's burning very close to residential areas and the winds are strong," said a fire brigade official. "We are doing everything to contain it."
Greece regularly faces wildfires during its dry summer months. But any large outbreak this year could pose a particular challenge for Greece's debt-ridden government, which is struggling to cut spending and pull the country out of an economic crisis.
Shortly after being appointed in June, the country's citizen protection minister Nikos Dendias said Greece was not ready for the forest fire season and faced a shortage of operational aircraft.