Smoke clings to the forest as flames burn the forest near the highway in La Jonquera, Spain, near the border with France, Sunday, July 22, 2012. The regional officials said wildfires have burned almost 7,000 hectares (17.297 acres) of forest. (AP Photo/Josep Ribas)
TERRADES, Spain (AP) — A vacationing French family of five jumped off a seaside cliff in a desperate attempt to escape a raging wildfire, with the father and one of his children plummeting some 50 meters (165 feet) to their deaths, authorities said Monday.
Flames forced the family and about 150 other tourists out of their cars Sunday night as most were returning home to France, and the group scrambled down hillsides toward the beach in the border town of Portbou to escape the blaze, said Deputy Mayor Elisabet Cortaba.
The French family of five got separated from the rest of the group on their way down and ended up at the cliff with no way out as the fire fanned by heavy winds approached them, Cortaba said.
"The fire started to close in on them and they couldn't climb up or climb down," she said after speaking with witnesses. "The only way out was to jump into the sea."
The 60-year-old father died instantly after landing on rocks, and his 15-year-old daughter drowned, Cortaba said. The mother was in critical condition Monday with a back injury, and the son and other daughter did not suffer life-threatening injuries. All were fished out of the sea by Portbou boaters and their identities were not released, Cortaba said.
Two other people were also killed by the weekend fires in northeastern Spain that have burned 90 square kilometers (35 square miles), including one man who had a heart attack dousing flames around his home. They were also French, said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.
Many of the tourists that made it to the beach in Portbou suffered injuries ranging from broken bones and burns in their dash down the hillsides with no well-used paths, Cortaba said.
The fires that broke out Sunday in several parts of the Catalonia region forced more than 1,400 people to stay the night in shelters. Fires were still burning Monday in many places, with roads cut off because of billowing smoke. In some areas farmers were helping firefighters by driving water tanker trucks to burning areas.
Train service in the region was suspended and several cross-border roads linking Barcelona with France closed Sunday because of the advancing flames, regional government spokesman Felip Puig said Sunday.
Santiago Villa, mayor of Figueres, which houses the famous Salvador Dali museum, said he had ordered the city's 44,000 residents to stay indoors until further notice.
The fire service said in a statement that more than 80 teams had been deployed to combat the wildfires.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that it had sent three specially equipped aircraft to dump water on the fires.
A north wind called the Tramontana is a regular feature in mountainous northeastern Spain, and its strong gusts that often exceed 100 mph (160 kph) can spread fires rapidly across the heavily forested area.
Clendenning reported from Madrid. Harold Heckle contributed from Madrid and Elaine Ganley contributed from Paris.