Nine dead as wildfires ravage northern Portugal, Spain

Cars and containers are pictured at a shipping terminal in the harbour of the German northern town of Bremerhaven, late October 8, 2012. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

At least nine people died as hundreds of wildfires ravaged northern Spain and Portugal, scorching farmland and forcing the evacuation of towns and villages, authorities said on Monday.

The fires, some of which an official said had been started deliberately, were fanned by strong winds as remnants of ex-Hurricane Ophelia brushed the Iberian coast.

They had spread quickly at the weekend across a landscape left tinder-dry by a hot summer, and some blazes in the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia remained out of control on Monday, authorities there said.

At least six people were killed and more than two dozen injured in central and northern Portugal on Sunday and early Monday, civil protection officers said.

Authorities in Portugal, where a huge fire killed 64 people in June, said the death toll was likely to rise. As many as 20 people could have been killed, television channel SIC said.

The bodies of two of the three victims in Spain, both women, were found by firemen inside a burnt-out car on a road in Galicia. The third, a man in his seventies, died as he tried to save his farm animals, media reported.

Most of the fires in Galicia were started deliberately, the head of the Galicia regional government, Alberto Nunez Feijoo, said in a radio interview.

Spain’s Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said some of those responsible had already been identified. They could face up to 20 years in jail if convicted, police said.

Over 100 fires were still active in Galicia alone, the regional government said on Monday, 67 of those raging out of control. In 16 cases, residents had been evacuated.

Portugal, where more than 6,000 firefighters battled to put out fires on Sunday, has requested assistance from its European partners and Morocco.

(Writing By Sonya Dowsett; editing by John Stonestreet)

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Former reporter and currently mareeg media representative in Somalia