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Figueres, Spain - Firefighters were on the verge of stamping out a wildfire in Spain that killed four people and sent terrified campers from across Europe fleeing for their lives, officials said on Tuesday.
Hundreds of emergency workers and volunteers were fighting the fire, which has raged over 14 000 hectares, devouring tall trees and leaving charred earth and flocks of dead sheep in its wake.
Six people remained in hospital on Tuesday, including a nine-year-old boy who was in intensive care, the regional health department said, as regional authorities sounded cautiously hopeful of soon beating the flames.
“The situation has improved greatly since yesterday and this morning but the fire is still not under control,” said Felip Puig, interior minister of the Catalonia region where the fire broke out Sunday near the French border.
“The fire is very stable but until it is completely extinguished, we cannot talk about it being under control.”
Firefighters said lower temperatures, weaker winds and higher air humidity levels were helping them gain the upper hand against the blaze which broke out on Sunday near the Catalan town of La Jonquera just across the French border.
Some 1 500 people including emergency and military personnel and local volunteers were still fighting the blaze, backed by 25 French and Spanish aircraft.
Water-bombing planes were grounded on Monday because of high winds.
Puig said on Monday the fire had likely been caused by a discarded cigarette butt. Spain is at higher risk of forest fires than ever this summer after suffering its driest winter in 70 years.
Emergency services on Tuesday ordered thousands of residents in six towns to stay indoors with their windows and doors shut because of the threat from the smoke and flames.
At Capmany, located 20km south of the French border, the flames totally destroyed the “Les Pedres” camp site on Sunday.
“It was my business. We lost everything. Our whole life is there,” said Mercedes Gonzalez, the owner of the campsite as she pointed to a charred pile of junk which is all that remained of its 70 bungalows.
Hundreds of people, including tourists at another campsite, were evacuated on Monday and spent the night in emergency shelters set up in the region, mostly in the town of Figueres, a few kilometres south of the border.
Mark Van Persie, a 48-year-old Dutchman who drove with his family from the Netherlands in their caravan to holiday in Spain, said he was given 10 minutes to pack a few things and leave a campsite in Albanya.
“It was a little scary because we knew that there is only one road and since the wind had changed we saw the smoke coming closer,” he said at a gym in Figueres where he and other evacuees were eating breakfast.
Sylvain Fouchier, a 35-year-old Frenchman who also fled the camp along with other Belgian, Dutch, French, German and Spanish tourists, said some people were not able to reach the emergency shelters.
“Some people gathered their belongings and tried to leave, but they came back because the roads were closed,” said Fouchier who was on holiday with his wife and three children.
After the major highway linking Spain and France was closed on Sunday, dozens of people took to the coast road and were caught by an outbreak of the fire around the Spanish town of Portbou.
Some abandoned their cars and fled on foot as the flames advanced, scrambling or jumping down cliffs.
Four people have been killed since the fire began.
One Frenchman and his 15-year-old daughter died after jumping off a cliff and another Frenchman died in hospital from burns after his car was engulfed in flames while a 75-year-old Spanish man died of a heart attack as he watched his house go up in flames. - Sapa-AFP