By Humphrey Carter
THE ash started to settle on Randa yesterday as the worst forest fire to have hit the Balearics this year was being put out by an army of 200 fire fighters from five fire brigades. Tomeu Llabres, the Balearic government's fire fighting chief, reported early yesterday afternoon that there were five or six secondary fires which were still alight but all means possible were being used to extinguish the mountain blaze which forced hundreds of people in the village of Randa as well as guests, staff and nuns at the monastery, to evacuate their homes on Friday afternoon. Most of the residents returned home late on Friday night and at first light yesterday, the three Dromadair fire fighting planes, the Canadair water lane and three helicopters returned to the hillside to bombard the fires with water; later in the morning an extra fire fighting plane arrived from the mainland. At least 100 hectares of hillside has been destroyed by the fire and Llabres said that the blaze, which actually started at 12.30 on Friday, was spotted too late. It was the apparent delay that forced fire fighters into tackling the blaze at very close range, often too close to realise what was happening around them, hence the fire, which started along one front, split into two, Llabres explained. Fire fighters worked in team throughout Friday night, containing the blaze and protecting houses and the villages of Son Verd, Galeta and Son Grau.
At mid-day yesterday the road to Randa was re-opened to the public but at 1pm, the Ibanat (the Balearic natural protection department) and fire fighters warned that they were still battling a handful of minor blazes which could be easily whipped up into full scale fires again by the north east wind. As the afternoon developed however, the last remaining fires were extinguished and yesterday evening the fire was “out.” Earlier in the day, Balearic vice-president Rosa Estaras led a delegation including Environment Minister Jaume Font, to the disaster scene to witness the extent of the ecological damage at first hand. Estaras praised the work of the fire services and members of the various emergency and security services involved in the operation and gave assurances that the government will do all it can to help revive the area and repair the environmental damage caused by the worst forest fire of the year, so far.


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