Planes battle forest fires in Spain

Planes battle forest fires in Spain

10 March 2012

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Spain — Firefighters in planes and helicopters on Saturday battled to finish off forest blazes that have ravaged hundreds of hectares of land in northeastern Spain, officials said.

The fire service in the Catalonia region, where the wind-fanned blazes started on Thursday, said one in the coastal Girona province remained “active” while four others in nearby Lerida province were being brought under control.

“The aeroplanes and helicopters are still working” dumping water on the blazes in both areas and all but a few of the 200 or so people evacuated have returned home, said a fire service spokeswoman who asked not to be named.

“It is expected that all the people will be able to return home in the next few hours,” the spokeswoman said on early Saturday afternoon.

Firefighters were also battling a sixth blaze in the neighbouring region of Aragon, where authorities said 100 people were evacuated near the town of Castanesa.

“This morning the airborne teams continued working intensively, making the most of more favourable weather conditions,” the Aragon government said in a statement Saturday, after the wind that fanned the flames dropped.

Spain is struggling through its driest winter since the 1940s, according to the national weather office. Crops have dried up and the familiar summer fires have come months early.

The Catalonia fire service said the blazes had burned 500 hectares (1,200 acres) of land in Girona alone, revising down earlier estimates.

The regional authorities in Aragon said on Friday that flames there had ravaged 1,100 hectares.

Evacuated families have been housed in neighbours’ homes or hotels.

The Catalonia government said in a statement that the situation of the fire in Girona was developing “favourably” on Saturday since the wind had shifted to the south.

But the fire spokeswoman cautioned: “It is forecast that this afternoon the wind could blow again from the north. It could could come back again stronger.”

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