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Spain fires coming under control

By CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman

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A villager battles a wildfire in the village of Pazos de Rabade, near Ourense, northwestern Spain.

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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- At least six forest fires are continuing to burn in northern Spain, but authorities say only one was considered a "level 1" fire that seriously threatens people or structures.

In northwest Galicia -- just north of Portugal and the scene of Spain's main fires in recent days -- just four fires remained out of control by midday Wednesday, down from six earlier in the day, the regional Galicia government said.

"The situation is better. Just four fires are burning," a regional government spokeswoman told CNN.

The main fire remained near the town of Carnota, on the northwest coast. One plane and five helicopters were battling the blaze, supported by ground crews.

Three other fires burned elsewhere in the Galicia region.

Two other fires on Wednesday were reported in northwest Leon province, which borders but is not a part of the Galicia region.

Other fires in Spain that had burned earlier in the week, including in Tarragona province near Barcelona, were reported under control by Wednesday.

The Environment Ministry said 107,500 hectares (265,000 acres) have burned in forest fires this year through August 14, the second worst year in a decade, just behind the 125,000 hectares (308,000 acres) that had burned by the same date in 2003.

The wildfires this year have killed 17 people -- including a group of 11 firefighters in July who were trapped by a fast-moving fire in Guadalajara province just east of Madrid, the Civil Guard said in a statement Tuesday.

The fires also have forced the evacuation, at least temporarily, of 2,786 people and 750 homes, the Civil Guard said.

The Civil Guard has arrested 99 people since last June on suspicion of starting forest fires and a top regional official in Galicia on Wednesday said authorities were actively pursuing arsonists and would seek the maximum penalties for them.

Spanish law authorizes fines up to one million euros ($1.2 million) for starting fires in forests or open spaces, and allows prison terms of up to 20 years if the forest fire caused loss of life or substantial economic damage, said Environment Minister Cristina Narbona.

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