Spain –– Hundreds of firefighters, backed by water bombing planes, battled a wind-fueled wildfire in northeast Spain Monday that left four French nationals dead and trapped thousands indoors.
The blaze claimed its fourth life Monday after a 64-year-old Frenchman who suffered 80 percent burns after his car was engulfed in flames died at a Barcelona hospital, the Catalan regional government said.
The wildfire broke out on Sunday near the town of La Junquera and spread rapidly across the Alt Emporda region near the French border, whipped up by winds of up to 90 kilometres (55 miles) an hour.
It has so far ravaged up to 13,000 hectares (32,000 acres) of land.
“The fire is still raging. The winds are less strong now and aeroplanes have now swung into action,” a spokesman for the fire fighting brigade in Catalonia told AFP.
The wind died down slightly on Monday, allowing officials to deploy water-bombing aircraft for the first time.
Six water bombing planes are in action and an additional six are due to join them, the fire fighting brigada spokesman said.
France meanwhile said it was pitching in, adding that the blaze was under control in its border areas.
Paris was “mobilising resources, including Canadairs (water bombers), so that we can carry out a joint operation to control this dramatic and deadly fire as quickly as possible,” Europe Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.
“We have complete and total solidarity with Spain because there is a common border and it is customary to help and provide resources,” he added.
Rene Bidal, the prefect of the southwestern French Pyrenees-Orientales frontier region, told AFP: “On the French side the fires are under control, there is no evolution, we are in monitoring mode,”
A Frenchman and his 15-year-old daughter drowned Sunday after after they threw themselves into the sea to escape the approaching flames near the town of Portbou just across the border with France.
A 75-year-old Frenchman man died of a heart attack as he watched his house consumed by flames in the town of Llers.
Twenty-one people were injured, seven of them seriously, by the blaze, Spanish firefighters said.
Up to 4,000 people were living without power.
Several roads were closed, but a key highway linking Barcelona to the French city of Perpignan reopened on Monday. However, a high-speed rail link between Spain and France was still shut.
The other road route currently open was through the principality of Andorra.
Firefighters ordered thousands of residents of 17 towns, including La Jonquera and Biure, to remain indoors with their windows and doors shut.
Catalan police on Sunday evacuated 93 people, including 74 children, from a camp near the town of Sant Climent Sescebes and taken to a nearby military base as a precaution.
“The fire advanced really quickly, in a way that makes it difficult to bring under control,” Catalan interior minister Felip Puig told reporters Sunday.
In the early hours of Monday enormous plumes of black smoke, spread by the strong wind, hung over the Jonquera region. Smoke from the blaze had reached Barcelona, Spain’s second city.
Spain is at higher risk of forest fires than ever this summer after suffering its driest winter in 70 years.
Last week hundreds of people were driven from their homes on the island of Tenerife after a wildfire broke out.
The worst fire ravaged 50,000 hectares in the eastern Spanish region of Valencia earlier this month.