Firefighters battle flames near Spanish lynx wildlife reserve

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MADRID (Reuters) - Firefighters battled on Monday to control a forest fire near the Donana wildlife reserve in southern Spain that forced the evacuation of 2,000 people and the removal of endangered Iberian lynx from a breeding center on Sunday.

Around 450 people were still waiting to return to their homes on Monday while more than 400 firefighters and soldiers worked to extinguish the flames using dozens of vehicles and 14 aircraft, officials said.

A heatwave has gripped the Iberian peninsular over the past few days, bringing water reservoir levels to record lows and pushing temperatures to over 40 Celsius (104F) in the southern region of Andalusia.

Forest fires in Portugal last week killed more than 60 people. Many of the dead were villagers who perished in their cars while trying to escape the flames. No deaths have been reported in the Spanish fires.

Donana National Park is an area around the size of Chicago containing marshes, streams and sand dunes and is home to rare species such as the Spanish imperial eagle and the Iberian lynx, the world’s most endangered feline.

Prospects of containing the fire by the end of Monday were good, said Jose Fiscal, head of the Andalusian government’s environmental unit in an interview on Onda Cera radio.

On Sunday, workers at the El Acebuche breeding center caught nine lynx adults and five kittens for evacuation when fire threatened the establishment, a spokesman for the environmental ministry said. One animal died in the process, possibly due to stress.

However, 13 animals could not be caught and the doors of the center were left open for the lynx to escape should the fire engulf the facility, the ministry said. On Monday, workers were told they could return to the center with the displaced animals.

Editing by Paul Day and Robin Pomeroy