PORTBOU, Spain — Hundreds of firefighters, backed by water-bombing planes, battled a wind-fuelled wildfire in northeast Spain Monday that left four French nationals dead and trapped thousands of people indoors.
The blaze claimed its fourth life Monday when 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. Another 23 people were injured, including eight who remain in hospital, it added.
The wildfire broke out 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 km an hour.
Smoke from the blaze, which has so far ravaged up to 13,000 hectares of land, reached Barcelona, Spain’s second-biggest city located some 150 km south of the border.
“The fire is still raging. The winds are less strong now and aeroplanes have now swung into action,” a spokesman for the fire brigade in Catalonia said.
About 500 firefighters backed by 22 French and Spanish water-bombing planes and helicopters were battling the blaze, emergency services said.
Officials were not able to deploy aircraft against the flames Sunday due to the strong winds.
Firefighters struggled to prevent the fire from spreading to areas of thick vegetation which would make it more difficult to bring under control, the Interior Minister of Catalonia, Felip Puig, told reporters.
The fire was likely caused by a cigarette butt or small explosive device that caught fire due to “recklessness or negligence”, 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, they are not spreading, we are in monitoring mode.”
A Frenchman and his 15-year-old daughter died Sunday after they threw themselves into the sea to escape the approaching flames near the town of Portbou just across the border with France.
“From where they jumped you would have to project yourself about one meter (three feet) to reach the sea. They probably did not jump far enough and they hit the rocks below,” said Portbou mayor Jose Luis Salas-Mallol.— AFP