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Tolls rise as Spain fires continue

By Al Goodman
CNN Madrid Bureau Chief

Huge areas have been decimated by fires in Portugal and Spain.

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Forest fires sweeping southern Europe are:
A natural phenomenon
A man-made disaster

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- A young firefighter has died in a traffic accident while rushing to battle a forest fire west of Barcelona, increasing the death toll to six from the fires in Spain since last weekend, a government official told CNN.

The fires on Wednesday morning local time continued to burn near Barcelona, while in Portugal, the two main areas of blazes were in the southern Algarve area and in the Guarda district, near the Spanish border.

The newest fires to break out in Spain were in Gerona province, which is between Barcelona and the French border. The fire forced roadblocks on five major roads, including a section of the main motorway, called the A-7, which is the principal coastal highway running from France to Barcelona to southern coastal Spain.

The new fire forced 2,000 evacuations. Scorching temperatures hovering around 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) continued in Spain, where the death toll from the heat wave rose to 42, according to CNN partner station CNN+.

In the Barcelona-area accident, a 22-year-old auxiliary fireman, hired for the summer, died when the fire truck rushing him to a forest fire late Tuesday suffered a blown tire and flipped over near the provincial capital of Lleida, 156 kilometers (96 miles) west of Barcelona.

Five other firefighters in the truck were injured in the accident. They remained in hospital in Lleida on Wednesday, with two of them in serious condition, a hospital spokeswoman told CNN.

The Lleida fire, which has burned 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) was under control by Wednesday morning.

But a larger blaze, just beyond the industrial suburbs of Barcelona, was still burning out of control on Wednesday around the locale of Sant Llorence Savall. It has burned 4,500 hectares (11,000 acres), including pine forests, since Sunday, despite firefighting efforts on the ground and from the air.

Five members of a family died on Sunday when they fled their farmhouse trying to escape this fire. A funeral service was held for them on Wednesday.

In Portugal, the fires since late July have been the worst, in terms of intensity and damage, in two decades. Fifteen people have been killed due to the fires.

The government on Tuesday said 215,000 hectares (531,000 acres) has been burned in all of 2003, and about a third of that total area burned was due to the fires just in the past two weeks, the National Fire Coordination Center, in Lisbon, told CNN.

The government estimated the damages at more than $1 billion U.S. dollars. Wednesday, there were four main active fires in Portugal, three in the Faro district in the southern Algarve region, and a fourth in the Guarda district, near the Spanish border, said the fire coordination center, in Lisbon.

Portugal has poured the most resources into fighting the Faro area fires, including three German firefighting helicopters on loan and four other firefighting aircraft on loan from Morocco.

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