Firefighters Close In On Deadly Spain Blaze

by
staff
Firefighters were on the verge of stamping out a huge wildfire in Spain Tuesday, authorities said, after a second night battling the blaze that killed four people.

A helicopter works above a fire in Boadella, Spain, Tuesday, July 24, 2012. The fires that broke out Sunday in several parts of the Catalonia region forced more than 1,400 people to stay the night in shelters, and fires are still burning in many places, with roads cut off because of the billowing smoke, train services in the region suspended and several cross-border roads linking Barcelona with France closed because of the advancing flames, regional government spokesman Felip Puig said.

Firefighters were on the verge of stamping out a huge wildfire in Spain Tuesday, authorities said, after a second night battling the blaze that killed four people.

Hundreds of emergency workers and volunteers were fighting the fire, which has raged over 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres), devouring tall trees and leaving charred earth and flocks of dead sheep in its wake.

Six people remained in hospital on Tuesday, including a nine-year-old boy who was in intensive care, the regional health department said, as regional authorities sounded cautiously hopeful of soon beating the flames.

"The general feeling is that it will be possible to enter into a control phase during the day," said Felip Puig, interior minister of the Catalonia region where the fire broke out Sunday near the French border.

"We are reasonably optimistic," Puig said, adding that an overnight dip in temperature and wind and higher humidity were expected to last long enough to ease conditions for stamping out the fire.

Earlier Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the fire services said the fire was "still active", but it had not spread since Monday evening.

Water-bombing planes were grounded late Monday because of the wind, but it died down during the night, she added.

Some 1,500 people including emergency and military personnel and local volunteers were fighting the blaze Monday, backed by 25 French and Spanish aircraft.

Whipped at first by high winds, the fire has been burning out of control and claimed four lives, including a Frenchman and his daughter who jumped off a sea cliff to escape the advancing flames, authorities said.

Emergency services ordered thousands of residents in 17 towns to stay indoors with their windows and doors shut because of the threat from the smoke and flames.

Hundreds of people including tourists at a campsite were evacuated and spent the night in emergency shelters set up in the region, mostly in the town of Figueres, a few kilometres (miles) south of the border.

Residents there woke up Tuesday to find their town clouded with acrid smoke.

"I don't remember ever seeing such a cloud of smoke in Figueres," said one local woman, Maria Angels Rodriguez, 50, an estate agent.

Sweeping the terrace at a local cafe, Isaac Hernandez, 33, said he was too young to remember the last big fire in the area in 1986.

"I'm not afraid because we are in the town, but I am very sad for what is happening in the hills," he said.

The wildfire broke out on Sunday around the border of France and Spain, near the Catalan town of La Jonquera, and spread quickly across the Alt Emporda area, whipped on by winds of up to 90 kilometres (55 miles) an hour.

The smoke reached as far as Barcelona, some 150 kilometres away.

Puig said Monday the fire had likely been caused by a discarded cigarette butt.

As well as the Frenchman and his daughter, a 75-year-old Spanish man died of a heart attack as he watched his house burn and another Frenchman, 64, died in hospital from burns suffered when his car was engulfed in flames.

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

The country's biggest fire so far this year ravaged 50,000 hectares in the eastern region of Valencia this month.