Galicia, Spain — A Spanish part-time firefighter has been arrested on suspicion of arson, as authorities said they believed an organised gang was to blame for forest fires raging across the northwestern region of Galicia.
The 31-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of starting three fires near the Galician town of Malpica in late July and investigators want to know if he was also behind other fires, Civil Guard police said today.
Part-time firefighters are paid by the job.
Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said he suspected a “ruthless gang” was behind some of the more than 100 fires burning in Galicia, one of Spain’s most forested regions.
About 20 people have been arrested for suspected arson this month. The fires have scorched more than 10,000 hectares and claimed three lives, those of a 74-year-old man defending his rural home and two women whose car became trapped.
Several houses in the town of Ourense were evacuated early on Friday as flames advanced, fanned by high winds. Thousands of tourists have been moved from camp sites in the region, usually known for a cool climate and green scenery.
Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero toured affected areas on Thursday, after he was criticised for staying on holiday in the Canary Islands for several days while swathes of Galicia went up in smoke.
The Government, which has requested European Union assistance, sent in the army and 7,000 firefighters were battling flames on Friday, backed by planes dumpingseawater.