x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Tourists flee campsite to escape wildfire in Spain

Fire in northeastern Spain has killed four people and forced hundreds to flee.

FIGUERES, Spain // Mark Van Persie and his family drove with their caravan from the Netherlands to holiday in Spain- but yesterday they woke up on the floor of a gym after fleeing a deadly wildfire.

Along with dozens of other Dutch, Belgian, French, German and Spanish tourists, they were forced to abandon their campsite in Albanya, northeastern Spain, as the flames drew dangerously close, threatening to trap them there.

"It was a little scary because we knew that there was only one road, and since the wind had changed, we saw the smoke coming closer," said Mr Van Persie, 48, at the gym in the town of Figueres, where he and other evacuees were eating breakfast.

"Our caravan is still in the campsite and we don't know when we will be able to go get it - if there is still a caravan when we get there and it hasn't burnt."

He arrived on Saturday, planning to spend three weeks camping in the Catalonia region.

The fire started the following day near the French border and spread rapidly, driven by strong winds.

It killed four people, the authorities said, and forced hundreds to flee as the flames advanced, devouring trees and killing farm animals trapped in its path.

At first, the campers and thousands of residents in towns in the area were told to stay where they were to avoid the smoke and flames.

However, firefighters then realised that there was a risk of the campsite being cut off by the inferno and "we had 10 minutes to pack a few things and leave", said Mr Van Persie, who said that he hoped to drive on to Barcelona to continue the family holiday.

"It is in a very closed valley," said Anna Compte, a 39-year-old Catalan woman who was camping at the site with her husband and three children. "If the fire came, we would have had no escape route."

The campers were evacuated to Figueres, a town a few kilometres from the worst of the fire, which is known for its museum dedicated to the Surrealist painter Salvador Dali, who was born there.

"It was a bit stressful, especially at the end because we could see ashes and started to smell the smoke," said Sandra Fouchier, 35, a holidaymaker from southern France who was camping with her husband Sylvain, also 35, and their three children.

"Some people gathered their belongings and tried to leave, but they came back because the roads were closed," said Mr Fouchier.

After the major motorway linking Spain and France was closed, some took to the coast road in their cars but were caught out by an outbreak of the fire around the Spanish town of Portbou.

Some abandoned their cars and fled on foot as the flames advanced, scrambling or jumping down cliffs.

One Frenchman and his 15-year-old daughter died after jumping off a coastal cliff to escape the advancing flames. Another Frenchman died in hospital from burns after his car was engulfed in flames.

"On Sunday we met people who wanted to get back to France at all costs because they were working on Monday," said Mr Fouchier. "I hope it wasn't them who were caught in the fire."

A ruined holiday is nothing compared to the tragedies of the dead, said Mrs Fouchier.

"We can't say it's ruined our holiday," she added, pointing at her children, who were sitting eating and playing on sleeping mats laid on the gym floor. "After all, it's something for them to remember."