Galicia, Spain — Spain will deploy 200 elite army engineers to help battle scores of forest fires in the country’s north-western regions, the government said on Thursday.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who interrupted his summer holiday to visit firefighting crews, said they would join around 1 200 troops already backing up local firefighters in an effort to control the flames, which have raged across the region for the past week.
Zapatero said “criminal activity” was behind a considerable number of the outbreaks, a situation which he described as a crisis. Police have arrested 15 people this month – nine in the last three days – on suspicion of starting many of the 114 fires.
For days, the air in many parts of western Galicia has hung thick with acrid smoke, forcing the closure of many tourist locations along a coastline famous for its picturesque beauty and seafood, local government spokesperson Iria Gonzalez said.
Fire has charred around 10 000 hectares of forest and scrub-land, mainly between the port city of Vigo and the regional capital of Santiago de Compostela, an area known for its fjord-like sea inlets.
Fires that affected the north-eastern region of Girona had all been put out, a local fire department spokesperson said.
Earlier this week, Spain asked the European Union for help in battling the blazes. Italy, France and Portugal have committed equipment and personnel, while Andorra, Morocco, Germany and the Czech Republic have offered aid.
Forest fires in Spain and other Mediterranean countries char hundreds of thousands of hectares of land every year.