Stone Age art damaged in forest fires in northwest Spain

By Harold Heckle
The Associated Press

MADRID, Spain — Stone Age rock carvings and paintings have been damaged in forest fires, some deliberately lit, in northwest Spain, officials said Friday.

The 4,000-year-old designs, which depict wildlife and geometric patterns, were charred and blackened in fires in Campo Lameiro and Cotobade in northwestern Galicia, said local government spokeswoman Iria Mendez.

It is too early to determine if the some of the art, considered national treasures, has been damaged beyond repair, Mendez said. Because the fires are still burning and resources are stretched, officials have not been able to asses how many of the ancient paintings and carvings have been damaged.

Hundreds of fires have raged through the heavily wooded northwestern corner of Spain in the last week, killing wildlife and roasting a countryside that contains rare remains of early human habitation, such as the paintings.

Wild horses also have been trapped by the flames, Mendez said.

Police have arrested 15 people this month — nine in the last four days — on suspicion of starting many of the fires.

Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba visited areas around Santiago de Compostela Friday and said some of the outbreaks were clearly planned.

"When one examines what is happening and talks to experts and police officers, one arrives at the conclusion that these are strategic fires planned with malicious intent," he said.

Emergency services fighting 124 fires, 87 of which were out of control Friday, include firefighting aircraft from France and Italy as well as 70 specialist firefighters from Portugal, the regional government said in a statement.

Several fires threatened the outskirts of the city of Ourense, forcing the evacuation of dozens of residents overnight.

Spain is to deploy 200 elite army engineers to help battle the flames.

The week of wildfires has charred more than 10,000 hectares (nearly 25,000 acres) of forest and scrubland, mainly between the port city of Vigo and the regional capital of Santiago de Compostela, an area known for its fjord-like sea inlets.

Meanwhile, fires that affected Spain's northeastern region of Girona had all been put out, a local fire department spokeswoman said.

Earlier this week, Spain asked the European Union for help in combating the blazes. Italy, France and Portugal have committed equipment and personnel, while Andorra, Morocco, Germany and the Czech Republic have offered aid.

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