Forest fires in northeast Spain kill 4, all French

MADRID Mon Jul 23, 2012 6:05am EDT

A forest fire is seen on a hill as a fire engine speeds past in the Vilaflor municipality, on the southern part of Spanish Canary Islands of Tenerife, July 18, 2012. REUTERS/Santiago Ferrero

A forest fire is seen on a hill as a fire engine speeds past in the Vilaflor municipality, on the southern part of Spanish Canary Islands of Tenerife, July 18, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Santiago Ferrero

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MADRID (Reuters) - Two big forest fires raging in the border area between France and northern Catalonia in Spain since Sunday have killed a fourth person, local authorities said on Monday, as strong winds hindered efforts to control the blaze.

All four victims are French, the government of Catalonia and the fire service said. The fourth to die was a 64-year-old man who died on Monday of burns.

A father and his 15-year-old daughter died on Sunday after trying to escape the flames down a cliffside in Portbou, a coastal town where one of the fires broke out. A man died of a heart attack further inland near La Junquera, a border town at the centre of the biggest fire.

The area includes the Costa Brava, one of the most popular beach destinations in Spain, and major motorways for holidaymakers driving to and from southern France.

The Catalan government said at least 23 people had been injured.

The fire now affects an area of 13,000 hectares inland, and has burned through about 200 hectares near Portbou. Some 150,000 residents in the inland area have been told to stay at home, and ashes from the blaze have begun to reach the Barcelona area.

Winds of 6-7 kilometers an hour spread the fire, although there are hopes these will weaken later in the day.

"Everything indicates that this originated from the imprudence of people, probably through cigarettes that have not been properly stubbed out and which are thrown out of windows," said Catalan premier Artur Mas.

The fires are the area's most devastating for well over 20 years, the local government said, and Environment Ministry data show 2012 is already the worst year for forest fires in Spain for over a decade.

(Reporting by Iciar Reinlein and Nigel Davies, writing by Sarah White, editing by Tim Pearce)

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