Spain fights hard to take fatal wildfire under control

Spain fights hard to take fatal wildfire under control

SPAIN - Agence France-Presse
Spain fights hard to take fatal wildfire under control

Firefighters try to extinguish a wind-fuelled wildfire in Ller near La Junquera, close to the Spanish-French border. About 1,300 people are battling the blaze. AFP photo

Hundreds of firefighters backed by water-bombing planes are battling a wind-fueled wildfire that started on July 22 in northeast Spain, which killed four people including a teenage girl on July 23. Another 23 people were injured, including eight who remained in hospital, the Catalan regional government said.

About 1,300 people have been battling the blaze, including 500 Spanish and 450 French firefighters plus military personnel, police and volunteers, backed by 33 planes and helicopters, said Catalonia region interior minister Felip Puig. The fire remained out of control, he said, but “the outlook is encouraging” because the wind had dropped and the temperature in the area was expected to do the same. “At this stage we cannot say when it will be possible to control the fire,” he added.

Puig said the fire had likely been caused by a cigarette butt or small explosive device that caught fire due to “recklessness or negligence.” Among the victims, were a Frenchman and his 15-year-old daughter who died July 22 after abandoning their car and throwing themselves off a cliff into the sea to escape the approaching flames near the town of Portbou. The man’s wife and their two other children were injured and taken to hospital.

A 75-year-old Spanish man died of a heart attack as he watched his house burn and a 64-year-old Frenchman died in hospital from burns suffered when his car was engulfed in flames, authorities said. About 100 other people who also abandoned their cars on the same stretch of road walked down a steep hillside to the beach, witnesses said.

The wildfire broke out on July 22 near the town of La Jonquera and spread quickly across the Alt Emporda region near the French border, whipped on by winds of up to 90 kilometers an hour. By July 23 it had covered 13,000 and the smoke reached as far as Barcelona, some 150 kilometers away.

Croatia evacuates tourists

Meanwhile, a firefighter died and 1,500 tourists were evacuated after forest fires fanned by strong winds broke out on the Croatia’s Adriatic coast on July 23, with the interior minister warning of a “very difficult” scenario. A 45-year firefighter died while battling another blaze that broke out near Moscenicka Draga on the Istria peninsula, fire service official Slavko Gaus told national HRT television.

“The situation is very difficult ... we are doing everything possible to protect people’s lives and property,” Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic told Nova television, as the fires continued to blaze out of control in the increasingly popular tourist area.

In fellow former Yugoslav republic Macedonia, 14 people were injured, in a forest fire at Strumica, the country’s farm minister said. The minister, Lupco Dimovski, said there was information suggesting that this fire may heave been started deliberately The Macedonia fire was still raging late Monday.