Galicia, Spain — EU member states have sent specialist fire-fighting crews to Spain to help control over 60 blazes sweeping through the country.
France sent two firefighting planes Friday and Italy’s civil protection department said it would dispatch two planes and a team of technicians to help fight the forest fires.
Neighboring Portugal originally offered to help Spain, but was forced to redeploy its firefighting forces to battle outbreaks within its own borders, regional authorities in Galicia said.
The regional prosecutor’s office said that five people have been arrested in the Galicia area of northwestern Spain on suspicion of starting the fires.
Arsonists are ”forest terrorists”
There’s no doubt we’re faced with a chain of deliberately lit fires, which are making it impossible to act efficiently because every time we put one fire out another is lit almost next to it, Environment Minister Cristina Narbona told Cadena SER radio onWednesday.
Narbona described the fires as ”forest terrorism” and reiterated a plea for local people to help bring arsonists to justice.
The authorities in Galicia said of thousands of fires recorded every year, nine out of 10 are started by arsonists who want to clear the ground illegally for construction work or grassland.
Similarly widespread forest fires have taken hold in neighboring Portugal, the scene of devastating blazes over the past few summers. For the past 10 months, Portugal has had little or no rain and the country is enduring the worst drought on record.
The fires have charred about 100 square kilometers (39 square miles) of forest and scrubland, mainly between the port city of Vigo and tourist center Santiago de Compostela, an area known for its fjord-like seainlets.
The forest fires that have swept through Portugal this summer bringing back memories of the fires of 2003 that destroyed 425,000 hectares (1,050,000) of woodland — the worst in 20 years.
Deadly fires claim three lives
Two bodies were found in a car in the Pontevedra region on Friday, killed by the blazes. On Sunday, police found the charred remains of a 74-year-old who had tried to defend his home from the flames near Santiago.
Thousands of hectares of woodland have been consumed by fire. A regional spokesman has been referring to a “new type of arson” in which fires were lit on wooded slopes near inhabited areas.
Forest fires cause permanent environmental damage
The conservation group WWF has called on the authorities to take a tougher line against those who start forest fires and push a tougher message to enforce that arson is a crime.
WWF forestry expert Nina Griesehammer told DW-WORLD.DE that woodlands are burnt down each year on the Iberian peninsular, and are never recovered. Wild cats are among the animals most under threat.
”In Portugal and Spain there is the lynx and there are only a couple of hundred that are around in this area. If there are more forest fires and if we have more plantation and not natural fires, the lynx there will be extinct,” Griesehammer said.