More detained as forest fire spreads in Galicia

More detained as forest fire spreads in Galicia 

12 August 2006

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Galicia, Spain — More than 100 fires still raged out of control across north-western Spain’s Galicia region yesterday as more arrests were announced of suspected arsonists, regional authorities said.

Meanwhile a farmer died in north-eastern Catalonia when his tractor overturned as he was helping to fight another blaze at Cabrera de Mar, the fourth fire-related death this summer in the Iberian peninsula.

A total of 18 people have now been arrested on suspicion of deliberately starting most of the blazes which have broken out in the past week in Galicia, up from 14 on Thursday.

Authorities said a total of 144 fires, fanned by winds and drought, had been counted yesterday, of which only 35 were under control, despite the drafting in of an unprecedented number of firemen, vehicles and aircraft. The worst-hit area is the Atlantic coast of southern Galicia, close to the border with Portugal, which has only just recovered from the 2002 oil spill from the wrecked tanker, Prestige.

Inland, where the alert level remained at the maximum high, houses were evacuated yesterday night in the provincial Capital of Ourense when flames came within three kilometres of the town of 108,000 people.

A week after the first fires started, some 6,400 firemen backed by 1,400 troops, including 200 elite engineers, have been deployed, along with 700 vehicles and 60 aircraft, but are failing to win the battle against what regional authorities say is a “wave of deliberate fires”.

Rewards and special protection have been offered to people passing on information about the arsonists. “Now the arsonists are using other techniques, burning forests whereas before they burned the land. These wooded areas are close to urban centres. We are looking into the reasons behind this change,” a Galician regional government spokesman said.

The Galician authorities have not given an indication of how much land has been scorched but local landowners estimate the fires have eaten away some 125,000 acres, double the annual average lost to blazes.

Police say that at the origin of the fires are conflicts between farmers and their neighbours, professional resentments, real estate and forestry interests and psychological troubles.

But the Green Party also blamed a lack of care for Galicia’s woods and rural zones.

The situation in Galicia would remain “very delicate” until the weekend because of high winds and temperatures, Spanish Environment Minister Cristina Narbona told public radio on Thursday. In Portugal, more than 1,000 firefighters were battling a dozen forest fires, six of which were raging out of control, with one female firefighter found dead, civil protection sources said. The worst fire was around the central city of Leiria, where the woman was found dead owing to suspected smoke inhalation after earlier tackling the heart of the blaze.

With numerous villages threatened by the flames some residents and campers were evacuated from around the village of Porto de Mos, where 336 firefighters aided by a plane and a helicopter were trying to put out a huge fire raging on two fronts. Elsewhere, 227 firefighters were deployed around Evora in the south where a major blaze was reported to be under control. Portugal has been on maximum alert for the past week.


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