La Coruna, Spain — Devastating forest fires in north-west Spain sent thousands of vacationers fleeing the region on Friday.
Hotel occupancy has dropped by up to 30 per cent, according to press reports. The fires, which have been burning for a week, spread even further Friday.
Despite the deployment of 7,000 firefighters, the inferno has spread to areas which had so far been left untouched by the flames. They include the Costa da Morte which has only just recovered from a catastrophic oil spill when the Prestige tanker sank in 2002.
Firefighting teams were battling a total of 135 blazes, authorities said.
Dramatic scenes unfolded in the city of Ourense as a huge wall of fire came within 50 metres of a residential area on the outskirts of the city of 110,000. Several houses had to be evacuated.
‘We have to concentrate on protecting the dwellings,’ said Mayor Manuel Cabezas. Extinguishing the fire burning in the hills outside the city was unthinkable.
Many vacationers, who had initially remained calm, have since departed holiday areas in region.
‘This is the most devastating season in history,’ said Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the Hoteliers Association in Pontevedra.
A vacationer called Charo from the Basque region said: ‘We couldn’t go anywhere and in five days, we have not even seen the sea.’
The camping grounds in Louro, operated by German national Wolfgang Heinrich, had to be evacuated several times because of approaching flames.
‘Every evacuation costs me 7,000 euros,’ said Heinrich.
The tourist branch in the region is worrying about Galicia’s unique countryside.
‘Nothing is green here any more, everything is black,’ said hotelier Jose Porrua. After the third forest fire, nothing will grow any more.
A total of 130,000 vacationers have fled the region or changed their bookings because of the flames, according to the daily La Voz de Galicia.
The newspaper estimated the damage at around 760 million euros (976 million dollar) and said fires had ravaged 50,000 hectares of forests and thickets.
Police have so far arrested 20 suspected arsonists including a 72- year-old retired woman and two firefighters, who are alleged to have lit dozens of fires, the Spanish interior ministry said.
A 30-year-old woman died when she became trapped in her car by a forest fire in central Portugal.
Fires in the Porto de Mos region near Leiria are threatening several villages. Five firefighters have been injured in Evora.