2 Spanish firefighters killed battling forest blaze in northwest Spain

By Daniel Woolls, AP
Friday, August 13, 2010

2 Spanish firefighters killed battling rural blaze

MADRID — A forest fire fanned by shifting gusts of wind killed two firemen in northwestern Spain, officials said Friday.

The blaze broke out Thursday night near a village of some 2,000 people in Pontevedra province, part of Spain’s normally cool and misty Galicia region.

Crews brought it under control by midday Friday after the blaze charred 250 acres (100 hectares) of forest, the regional government’s rural affairs department said.

Crews battling the fire through the night faced strong and constantly shifting winds that made their work harder, it said. The exact circumstances of the two men’s deaths was not immediately known.

Rural affairs chief Samuel Juarez said arson was suspected as the cause of the fire, saying it was suspicious that four fires had broken out on four consecutive days in the same area.

In neighboring Portugal, the Civil Protection Service said 33 wildfires were burning Friday afternoon in northern forests and the country’s president and prime minister returned from their vacations to visit the operational command center.

Authorities suspect many of the Portuguese fires were started deliberately, and more than 100 detectives were working on arson investigations.

Police announced the arrest of three shepherds on suspicion of arson, raising to 15 the number of people arrested this summer.

More than 800 firefighters, more than 260 vehicles and 20 aircraft were in action, the Civil Protection Service said on its website.

Authorities said they were most concerned about blazes in the Peneda-Geres and Serra da Estrela national parks, where some wildfires have raged for almost three days.

President Anibal Cavaco Silva, suspended his vacation to visit the command center for the firefighting effort.

“I have seen that the means at our disposal are enough to respond to needs,” he said. “The Portuguese have to recognize that the situation is very difficult (and) due to to the high temperatures and low humidity it is likely that (fires) will continue to break out in coming days.”

Environment Minister Dulce Passaro said the emergency services were up against the heat and arsonists but were winning the battle.

“The perception I have is that we’re doing all we can and that the situation is under control,” she told reporters.

Two firefighters also died in separate incidents in Portugal earlier this month. A woman firefighter died after being engulfed by flames in a forest, and another was killed in a road accident after returning from a blaze.

Wildfires are common in Portugual during the summer. Almost 10,000 fighters and 56 aircraft are on standby this year.


Associated Press Writer Barry Hatton in Lisbon contributed to this report.

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