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Firefighters bringing blazes under control in Portugal, France

Firefighters were making progress in quenching forest fires that have ravaged parts of Portugal and France, officials said Friday, as Spain faced a rash of possibly deliberate blazes.

The situation had calmed down on the frontline of fires in northern Portugal and on the island of Madeira where three people perished this week in the flames.

“Weather conditions improved overnight, the wind is a bit calmer and we have been able to make progress,” Carlos Guerra, an official with the national civil protection authority, told Lusa news agency.

The mercury on Thursday topped 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit), the hottest temperature on Madeira since 1976, with winds gusting to 90 kilometres (55 miles) per hour.

On Friday nearly 1,400 firefighters continued to battle some six major fires in northern Portugal, but they have succeeded in halving the number of blazes, officials said.

Portugal has been aided by water bombers sent by Italy, Spain and Morocco, and on Friday it announced two more planes were coming from Russia.

In southern France, firefighters said Friday that they had managed to extinguish the blazes that swept through more than 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) north of Marseille for the past two days as the Mistral wind that had fanned the flames dropped sharply.

Three houses, a restaurant and a car repair garage were gutted by fire and another 17 houses were damaged.

– Suspicious fires –

Prosecutors are investigating the cause of a fire in Vitrolles, north of Marseille, after a man was arrested near the outbreak when local residents saw him acting suspiciously.

French President Francois Hollande said Thursday the authorities believe some of the fires were started deliberately. He vowed the perpetrators would be tracked down.

Likewise in Spain, officials said Friday that over the past few days in Galicia on the Atlantic coast, the number of fires have increased in a way that raises suspicions they were deliberately set.

“We cannot confirm it until police establish the cause (of the fires), but we know that in the last few days, different incendiary devices have been discovered on site,” a source in the regional government told AFP.

In all, firefighters in Spain are battling some 15 blazes which have ravaged more than 5,800 hectares in five days.

Five of the fires were still advancing Friday including three that threatened homes.

A 56-year-old woman has been arrested suspected of lighting around 15 fires that were quickly extinguished near her home in a village in Galicia since July 18, the civil guard said.

She is suspected of having placed decorative candles in the woods to start blazes, a civil guard member said.

The fires sweeping through Galicia’s forested mountains are damaging to the region’s logging industry.

Its federation issued a statement Thursday calling for “zero tolerance” and severe punishment for anyone found responsible for igniting the flames.

Separately, a fire that has destroyed more than 4,800 hectares of pine woods on La Palma, the most north-westerly of the Canary Islands, was brought under control after eight days.

The blaze claimed the life of a park ranger. A German man who allegedly sparked the fire by burning toilet paper has been remanded in custody.

And in France’s Pyrenees region near the Spanish border, a fire that erupted Thursday forced the evacuation of 60 people as the flames edged dangerously close to a village, police said.

“The smoke was so thick that we couldn’t see the village, which is just a kilometre from here,” said local tourist official Nathalie Dephino.

The town’s deputy mayor Patricia Vignon said Friday the fires had been put out and air tankers had dumped water on the scorched areas to ensure the fires do not re-ignite.