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Spanish premier blames arsonists for deadly wildfires

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Madrid (AFP)

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Monday that arsonists were to blame for most of the deadly wildfires raging in northwestern Spain which have so far killed three people and injured dozens.

"What we are experiencing here does not happen by chance, this was provoked," he said after observing a minute of silence for victims in the town of Pazos de Borben.

Rajoy, who is from Galicia, said a major fire broke out near the town in the early hours of Sunday in five different locations at the same time.

At one point Sunday there were over 125 wildfires raging across Galicia, compared with the previous record of 50 simultaneous blazes back in August, when temperatures were much higher, Rajoy said.

Two women died on Sunday when their van was engulfed by flames as they were trying to escape near Nigran, outside Vigo, Galicia's biggest city, and an elderly man died in an animal shed near his house in Carballeda de Avia.

Five people were treated for burns and 14 for respiratory problems at Vigo's Povisa Hospital, the hospital said in a Twitter post.

Five fires raged near Vigo on Sunday, forcing the evacuation of a shopping mall and a PSA Peugeot Citroen factory on the outskirts of the city, though workers were able to return to the factory on Monday.

Hundreds of firefighters backed by water-dropping helicopters and planes were battling 19 major fires in Galicia on Monday, the regional government said in a statement.

Alberto Nunez Feijoo, head of the regional government, said "terrorist arsonists" were behind the wildfires.

"Galicia is not burning alone. Galicia is being burned," he said.

Feijoo described the situation as "critical", though light rain was aiding the battle against the flames after the highly dangerous confluence of strong winds from Hurricane Ophelia and high temperatures after a period of drought.

Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said earlier in a tweet that "several people have been identified in connection to the fires in Galicia".

Across the border in Portugal at least 27 people have died in fires which have ravaged forests in the north and centre of the country over the past 24 hours.

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