Page last updated at 08:33 GMT, Wednesday, 22 July 2009 09:33 UK

Forest fires kill Spanish firemen


High temperatures in Catalonia have helped fan the fires

Four firefighters have been killed while trying to tackle forest fires in north-eastern Spain.

Another two were badly burned in the same incident, when the wind changed direction and the firefighters were suddenly overwhelmed by the flames.

The firemen were trying to contain a fire in the Els Ports national park near Tarragona in the Catalonia region.

Temperatures of around 40C have helped fan fires, not only in the north but also near Madrid in central Spain.

Some 2,000 people had to be evacuated as fires took hold on the hills overlooking the town of Collado Mediano, north-east of Madrid on Tuesday.

But after firefighters brought the fire under control, with the help of aircraft dropping water, residents were allowed to return home in the evening.

Worst in four years

A senior official said the firefighters killed on Tuesday found themselves at the mercy of the wind.

"They were prepared, capable, qualified firefighters. A change in meteorological conditions caused them to lose their lives," the head of the Catalan regional government, Jose Montilla, said.

The death toll was the worst since 2005, when 11 firefighters were killed fighting a blaze in a pine forest near the central city of Guadalajara.

The hot summers of 2005 and 2006 saw tens of thousands of hectares of forest burned across Spain, though the summers of 2007 and 2008 were less destructive.

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