MADRID, Spain – Hundreds of firefighters managed to control a forest fire that has destroyed huge areas of woodland since it started three days ago in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, officials said Friday. The blaze has destroyed 66,000 acres of woodland and pasture in the provinces of Seville and Huelva and firemen are still in the area in case of fresh outbreaks, a spokeswoman for the fire service Infoca said.
An elderly couple died trying to escape the flames in their car on the first day of the fire and many farmers have been ruined by the loss of their grazing. More than 1,000 people have been evacuated from their homes.
“The fire has been under control since 2 a.m. EDT this morning,” the spokeswoman said.
Newspaper El Pais said the outbreak was the worst in the region since 1991 and El Mundo said the area burned was the size of 35,000 soccer fields.
Regional government officials said the blaze looked as if it was deliberately started.
In neighboring regions of southern Portugal, more than 700 firefighters and soldiers backed by water-bombing aircraft were fighting to control blazes that have raged for four days, the national emergency center said.
Greenpeace says only 10 percent of forest fires in Spain start through natural causes. Fifty percent are started by people accidentally and 40 percent deliberately.
“Now the authorities spend three times more on putting out fires than on preventing them and that has to change,” the environmental group’s forestry specialist Miguel Angel Soto told Reuters.
Fire services were better at extinguishing outbreaks and that had reduced the area burned nationwide in recent years, but the number of fires started kept rising, he said.
“We have the feeling we’re losing the battle. More and more fires start and some, like this one, are very virulent.”
Government figures show 104,000 acres have been destroyed by fire this summer in Spain up to mid-July, 10,000 more than last year but below the average for the last decade which is 188,000 acres a year.