Four killed and 12 injured in Girona wildfires

Interior minister argues for stronger criminal penalties after cigarette butts emerge as cause of blazes

Flames rage near La Jonquera (Girona).
Flames rage near La Jonquera (Girona).ROBIN TOWNSEND (EFE)

The larger of two fatal wildfires that erupted in Girona province on Sunday afternoon is still “out of control” according to authorities, although it is currently contained within a perimeter of 63 kilometers. Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz cut short a trip to Cyprus for an informal meeting of EU officials on Monday to witness the efforts of the firefighting teams.

Strong winds have fanned the flames of the fire, pushing it westward. The worst case scenario would see the fire reach the Alta Garrotxa, a natural forest zone spread over difficult, mountainous terrain. The towns of Avignonet de Puigventòs, Terrades and Boadella face the most danger. The Catalonia regional interior chief, Felipe Puig, said Monday afternoon that a sudden change in wind direction in the Empordà area had given authorities cause to be “reasonably optimistic” as to the evolution of the blazes.

The devastating fires — one near the interior town of La Jonquera and another smaller blaze around Portbou near the border with France — have destroyed 9,000 hectares of land, killing four and injuring 12.

A French father and daughter died after leaping off a cliff into the sea

Amongst the casualties are a French father and daughter, who died after leaping off a cliff into the sea in a bid to escape the flames when they became trapped on the coastal highway south of the border. The wife and son of the same family, who also made the desperate leap, were admitted to the Josep Trueta Hospital in Girona with serious injuries. The other fatalities were a 64-year-old Frenchman who died when the flames caught his car while he was driving, and a Spaniard who suffered a heart attack when he saw the inferno advancing on his property.

Four other injured people were released from hospital on Monday. Puig confirmed that both blazes had been caused by human carelessness.

“The Portbou fire started next to the road and was caused by a cigarette butt or another object thrown from a car,” Puig said. “The origin of the La Jonquera fire is next to a parking lot, so it also certain that is started as the result of the actions of a person.”

On Monday morning, the cloud of smoke from the fires had reached as far south as the city of Barcelona.

The region of Alt Empordà, with a population of 140,000, has been particularly affected. An evacuation order in the region, which saw 1,400 people spend the night in municipal buildings and zones designated by city councils, has all but been lifted except for the municipalities of Darnius and Terrades. Fourteen municipalities are experiencing problems with electricity supply. Authorities said the number of people without power had been reduced from 3,000 to 800 during Monday and it was hoped supply would be restored in full by the end of the day. The residents of six villages, Darnius, Terrades, la Vajol, Cantallops, Albanyà and Sant Llorenç de la Muga remained confined to their houses.

France has sent 300 firefighters and five airtankers to help Spanish forces, which comprise military emergency units, firefighters, regional and national police and 100 volunteers, to combat the blaze.

Later on Monday, Interior Minister Fernández Díaz backed a call to stiffen punishments for human negligence leading to wildfires. Juan Antonio Navarro Armas, a forest ranger, was jailed in 2007 for deliberately starting a fire that devastated Gran Canaria.

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