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 in the northwest region of Galicia.
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 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 5,700 hectares in five days.
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.
In the Pyrenees region near the Spanish border, a fire that erupted Thursday forced the evacuation of 60 people from their homes as the flames edged dangerously close to a village, police said.
“The police knocked on our doors and told us to leave and to turn off the gas,” said Annie, a resident of the village of Rodes who took shelter at the tourist information centre nearby.
“The smoke was so thick that we couldn’t see the village, which is just a kilometre from here,” said Nathalie Dephino, an official at the centre.
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.