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Three killed in Spanish wildfires
by Staff Writers
Portbou, Spain (AFP) July 23, 2012

Forest fires fanned by strong winds in Spain's Catalonia region left three French nationals dead as Madrid on Monday stepped up fire fighting efforts by deploying water bombing planes.

French authorities meanwhile said the fire was under control in the border region of Pyrenees-Orientales flanking Spain.

"The fire is still raging. The winds are less strong now and aeroplanes have now swung into action," a spokesman for the fire fighting brigade in Catalonia told AFP.

Six water bombing planes have been deployed and an additional six are due to join them, he said.

Strong winds prevented officials from deploying water bombing planes on Sunday.

France meanwhile said it was pitching in.

It was "mobilising resources, including Canadairs (water bombers), so that we can carry out a joint operation to control this dramatic and deadly fire as quickly as possible," Europe Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

"We have complete and total solidarity with Spain because there is a common border and it is customary to help and provide resources," he added.

A Frenchman and his 15-year-old daughter drowned Sunday after after they threw themselves into the sea to escape the approaching flames near the town of Portbou just across the border with France, the Catalan regional government said.

A 75-year-old Frenchman man died of a heart attack as he watched his house consumed by flames in the town of Llers.

The fire, whipped up by winds of up to 90 kilometres an hour, ravaged up to 13,000 hectares (32,000 acres), Spanish officials said. Twenty-one people were injured, seven of them seriously, Spanish firefighters said.

A French national sustained 80 percent burns. Up to 4,000 people were living without power.

Several roads were closed, but a key highway linking Barcelona to the French city of Perpignan reopened on Monday. However, a high-speed rail link between Spain and France was still closed.

The other road route currently open was through the principality of Andorra.

The blaze broke out just after noon on Sunday near the town of La Jonquera close to the the border with France, the Catalan government said.

"The fire advanced really quickly, in a way that makes it difficult to bring under control," Catalan interior minister Felip Puig told reporters.

In the early hours of Monday enormous plumes of black smoke, spread by the strong wind, hung over the Jonquera region.

About 80 firefighting brigades from Spain and France were fighting the wildfire.

Firefighters ordered residents of nine towns, including La Jonquera and Biure, which are home to over 7,000 residents, to remain indoors with their windows and doors shut.

Catalan police said 93 people, including 74 children, were evacuated from a camp near the town of Sant Climent Sescebes and taken to a nearby military base as a precaution.

Spain is at higher risk of forest fires than ever this summer after suffering its driest winter in 70 years.

Last week hundreds of people were driven from their homes on the island of Tenerife after a wildfire broke out.

The worst fire ravaged 50,000 hectares in the eastern Spanish region of Valencia earlier this month.



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