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2 killed after family jumps into sea in attempt to flee Spain fire

July 22, 2012: Flames ravage the forest near the highway in La Jonquera, near the border with France, Spain, Sunday.AP2012

A French man and one of his three children died after they jumped along with his wife off a 164-foot cliff into the sea to flee a wildfire that forced them out of their car as they were returning home at the end of their vacation, officials said Monday.

Two other people were also killed by the weekend fires in northeastern Spain that have burned 35 square miles.

The French mother and two children survived, as did about 150 more mostly French tourists who had to abandon their cars Sunday evening because of the wildfire, heading on foot down steep hillsides toward the beach in the border town of Portbou, said Deputy Mayor Elisabet Cortaba. Many suffered injuries ranging from broken bones to burns.

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. "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 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.

The fires that broke out Sunday forced more than 1,400 people to stay the night in shelters and also killed two more people, officials said, including one man who had a heart attack while dousing flames around his home.

Train service in the region was suspended and several cross-border roads linking Barcelona with France were 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 and an emergency unit from Zaragoza to aid firefighters.

A north wind called the Tramontana is a regular feature of life in mountainous northeastern Spain and its strong gusts, which can often exceed 100 mph, can spread fires rapidly across the heavily forested area.