Fifth firefighter dies as bush fires rage out of control in northern Spain

   Fifth firefighter dies as bush fires rage out of control in northern Spain

24 July 2009

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Spain — A fifth firefighter was killed yesterday as dozens of fires continued to rage out of control through many areas of northeastern Spain.

On Tuesday four of the dead and two who are seriously injured, all highly experienced firefighters, were trapped by flames in a mountainous area when the wind changed direction and blocked their escape. The fifth victim, a 50-year-old fireman, died when his truck fell down the hillside from a narrow track near Teruel.

As much as northwestern Spain was fighting dozens of fires, a new outbreak was declared yesterday evening in the south of the country. Several thousand people were evacuated from their homes near the towns of Turre and nearby Mojacar, an area with many foreign residents, including several Irish families. Late last night hundreds of them had taken refuge on the beach in Mojacar and others were taken to sports and cultural centres in the fishing port of Garrucha.

More than 8,000 hectares of woodland, bush and hillside have been destroyed with high winds fanning the flames. One of the most badly damaged areas, where 1,200 hectares have been burned, is in the Horta de San Joan National Park, a protected nature reserve which is located near Zaragoza.

All available manpower, airpower and equipment is being used to try to contain the spread of the fires, many of which are in areas hard to reach except from the air. The authorities are also considering appealing for reinforcements from neighbouring France and Portugal. Experts say it will be impossible to extinguish many of the fires and their only course of action will be to contain them until they have burned out.

More than 1,500 people, 130 of them children from a summer camp, were evacuated from an area near Zaragoza on Wednesday night, either to escape the flames or because thick smoke was causing breathing problems.

The fires have even reached the mountains near Madrid, where another 2,000 people were evacuated as a precaution – although they were allowed to return to their homes yesterday.

The high-speed rail link between Madrid, Zaragoza and Barcelona was closed for much of the day as flames approached the track, stranding more than 4,000 passengers. Renfe, the national rail company, chartered a fleet of buses to take those travelling to and from Zaragoza, and aircraft for those going to Barcelona.

This year is proving to be one of the worst summers for fires for more than a decade. A maximum alert has been issued for much of the country; a map of danger areas showed about three-quarters of the Iberian peninsula coloured in red, the highest level.

Unusually high temperatures, low humidity and strong winds have dried out the countryside, but thunder storms are threatening further dangers. Several of this week’s fires are believed to have been caused by lightning strikes or by high winds bringing down electricity cables.

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