Three firefighters die fighting blazes in France

16th August 2006, Comments 0 comments

SAINT TROPEZ, France, Aug 15, 2006 (AFP) - Three firefighters died Tuesday in the south of France when their vehicle plunged off the road as fire officials there as well as in Spain and Portugal battled blazes that have devastated forests and property.

SAINT TROPEZ, France, Aug 15, 2006 (AFP) - Three firefighters died Tuesday in the south of France when their vehicle plunged off the road as fire officials there as well as in Spain and Portugal battled blazes that have devastated forests and property.

The firefighters who died lost their lives near Ramatuelle on the French Riviera when their vehicle came off a narrow winding road and fell into a ravine in an area where fire officials had been fighting a blaze that engulfed 56 hectares (138 acres). A fourth fireman was injured in the crash.

The fire service said on Tuesday evening that the blaze, not far from the jet-setters' holiday resort of Saint Tropez, had been put out. It had earlier threatened luxury villas and forced the evacuation of 4,000 people.

Police said they had opened an inquiry into the accident involving the firefighters, who had been dispatched to help fight the Ramatuelle blaze from their base in the southern town of Puget-Ville.

Elsewhere in Europe, Spain said it had finally got control over scores of fires which had been started -- many apparently deliberately -- over the past 12 days in its northwest Galicia region.

In Galicia the local authorities said that the situation was "practically normalized" with 14 fires still being fought at 7:00 pm (1700 GMT) and 68 contained or almost extinguished, compared with more than 100 at the same time on some recent days.

"There has been a huge improvement in the situation," said a spokeswoman from the rural environment department.

"The wind has dropped and the fires are not advancing as fast as they were," she added. Rain was forecast for Wednesday "which would be needed for everything to be finished."

The 12 days of fires have cost four lives in Galicia and destroyed vast areas of forest, though the only indication of a figure given by the authorities is "tens of thousands of hectares".

The full extent of the damage is the subject of political controversy. The regional government, a coalition of socialists and Galician nationalists, has said it will provide more accurate statistics within the next two days.

The conservative opposition has given a figure of 175,486 hectares (433,000 acres) ravaged, basing its calculation on satellite photographs, but local media have reported the government as saying the real figure is less than half that number.

The head of the Spanish association of timber industries Juan Jose Busto has estimated that at least 100,000 hectares have been lost, and that the record 1989 loss of 220,000 hectares could be equaled.

"It takes 30 to 40 years to reproduce a tree and at this rate we shall find ourselves without raw materials," he said.

At least 27 suspected arsonists have been arrested, nine of whom have been put in preventive detention, while four have been placed in psychiatric hospitals.

In the past most fires have been the result of pyromania and carelessness but the authorities say that this season's blazes in Galicia indicate "a new criminality with political, economic or other objectives".

Unprecedented resources were mustered to fight the flames: 2,000 troops, 15,000 firefighters, among them 7,000 volunteers, 70 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters and 700 vehicles.

The rain forecast for Galicia was also expected to help firefighters in Portugal to the south, where all blazes were reported under control by Tuesday morning.

Portugal lowered its fire warning from "yellow" to "blue", the lowest level, as forecasts of lower temperatures and rain were expected to prevent the spread of fires.

Ascenso Simoes, secretary of state for the interior, said firefighters could "have a rest".

But later in the day two new fires broke out in the north.

One, near Covilha in the Castelo Branco region, was tackled by 144 firefighters backed by 39 vehicles, four water-dropping aircraft and two helicopters, while 57 firefighters supported by 14 vehicles fought an outbreak at Trancoso in the Guarda region.

The body of a 67-year-old man was found in a path in a wooded area near the central town of Oliveira de Frades late Monday, the first civilian to perish in the dozens of wildfires which have swept Portugal this summer. At least seven firefighters have also died.

The fire service said 4,600 fires were recorded in Portugal between August 5 and 13, an average of 490 a day.

Twenty-three people have been arrested in Portugal on suspicion of deliberately starting fires. But government officials mainly blame the negligence of landowners who do not clear their properties of brush before the hot summer months.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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