July 24, 2005

Spain to declare disaster zone in fire-hit area

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain will declare a disaster zone in a
region ravaged by a wildfire that killed 11 firefighters, Prime
Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said on Sunday.

The declaration will make the fire-blackened area in
Guadalajara province, 150 kms (90 miles) east of Madrid,
eligible for government aid to help it recover from one of
Spain's worst environmental disasters.

Zapatero made a surprise visit to the region on Sunday
immediately after he returned from a trip to China.

"The government will declare a disaster zone for all this
area," Zapatero told reporters.

The fire scorched 13,000 hectares (32,000 acres) and killed
11 firefighters last Sunday when they were trapped by a wall of

Zapatero said he would meet the mayors of all towns in the
area and other regional officials on Tuesday to draw up a
recovery plan as well as aid and economic incentives to get the
region back on its feet.

The fire, believed to have been sparked by a barbecue,
quickly got out of control in an area of forest and brush that
had been turned into a tinderbox by Spain's worst drought since
the 1940s.

Many local residents complained that the regional and
central governments had failed to provide enough resources to
fight the raging wildfire until it was too late.

The opposition center-right Popular Party has seized on the
criticism, accusing the government of a tardy response and
faulting Zapatero for going to China instead of visiting the
region hit by the fire.

On Sunday, a leading Popular Party official, Ana Pastor,
criticized Zapatero for traveling to Guadalajara, calling the
visit "clandestine and cowardly."

The Popular Party is also calling for parliament to set up
a committee of inquiry into the fire.