Forest fires set deliberately: Spanish officials

Forest fires set deliberately: Spanish officials 

14 August 2006

published by www.thepeninsulaqatar.com


Galicia, Spain — Deadly blazes that have ravaged Spain’s north-west region of Galicia abated yesterday, authorities said, as firefighters hoped rain forecast for start of the week would help put an end to the fires, many of which were started deliberately.

The head of Galicia’s regional government, Emilio Perez Tourino, said that firefighters had extinguished 94 per cent of fires on Saturday despite difficult weather conditions.

He said areas surrounding towns were under control and added that he was confident the spate of fires that has blighted Galicia for nine days would be well on its way to ending today.

Despite gaining control of certain fires, others sprang up elsewhere in the region overnight on Saturday, notably in the Atlantic coast provinces of Coruna and Pontevedra and particularly in the inland province of Orense.

At the last count at 1:00 pm (1100 GMT), 68 fires were still alight, of which 35 were out of control. The others were either under control or practically extinguished.

The worst blaze was located close of Avion, in Orense, where the area was still on the highest category 1 alert.

Four people have died so far in Galicia, with a fifth person succumbing to flames elsewhere in Spain. An estimated 50,000 hectares (125,000 acres) have gone up in smoke since August 4.

Tourino’s announcement yesterday came despite comments earlier in the day that no more information on the fires’ status would be released in a bid to deter more arson attacks, believed to be the cause of many blazes.

“Yesterday (Saturday) morning we said that the situation was getting better and immediately afterwards a lot more fires broke out,” a spokeswoman at the region’s rural environment department said by telephone.

“We do not want to encourage them, to incite them to set more fires,” she said.

Regional officials said that homemade incendiary devices had been discovered and they have offered rewards and special protection to people providing information about arsonists.

Twenty-seven people aged between 21 and 90 have been arrested.

Police say the suspected arsonists have many different profiles: sacked auxillary firefighters exacting revenge, greedy firefighters paid per number of fires tackled, the mentally disturbed and farmers wanting to expand pasture areas.

The last person to be arrested was a 38-year-member of a firefighting brigade. The man was detained early yesterday in Orense on suspicion of igniting at least one fire during the night.

The team mobilised in Galicia is the biggest ever with 2,000 soldiers, 15,000 firefighters, including 7,000 volunteers, 70 planes and helicopters and 700 vehicles.

Blazes have also broken out elsewhere in Spain, which is suffering its third consecutive year of drought.

A village was evacuated in central Spain as a blaze straddling the provinces of Toledo and Caceres destroyed 2,100 hectares of forest. Firefighters hoped to bring the flames under control by the end of the day.

Two smaller fires had broken out in southern region of Andalusia and in Aragon in the northeast.

In neighbouring Portugal, over 600 firefighters backed by 130 vehicles battled four wildfires in central and northern Portugal, the national firefighting service said.

Some 260 firefighters and four planes were beating back the largest blaze which has raged since Tuesday near the northern town of Arcos de Valdavez.

Another fire near the central town of Sever do Vouga threatened built-up areas and forced the closure of several roads because of the thick smoke and closeness of the flames, state-run radio RDP reported.

That blaze was being fought by over 180 firefighters and two planes.

There were also fires burning in the districts of Aveiro, Viana do Castelo and Viseu.

Portugal’s government has put exceptional measures in place this year in the face of the threat from wildfires, which have ravaged hundreds of thousands of hectares over recent summers.

Temperatures are forecast to reach a maximum of 36 degrees Celsius (97 degrees Fahrenheit) on Saturday in the centre and north of Portugal according compared to a high of 42 degrees Celsius recorded on Friday in the region.

Police said they had arrested 21 suspected arsonists so far this year, including three over the past week, and more detentions were expected over the coming days.


 

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