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A firefighting plane flies over San Agustin Lorena Sopena/Europa Press/AP
fanning the flames

Strong winds drive early wildfire destroying forestry in Spain

The blaze has forced 1,800 people from their homes.

STRONG WINDS HAVE fanned the flames of Spain’s first major fire of the year, complicating work for firefighters.

The blaze has ravaged around 4,300 hectares of mainly forest since Thursday and forced 1,800 people from their homes.

Over 500 firefighters battled the fire which broke out near the eastern village of Villanueva de Viver, where unseasonably warm temperatures neared 30 degrees Celsius on Friday.

Three small villages with a combined population of around 80 people — Higueras, Pavias and Torralba del Pinar — were the latest to be evacuated today, according to emergency services.

They were backed by 23 water-dropping planes and helicopters before night fell.

While temperatures dropped today to 19 degrees, strong winds of up to 70 kilometres an hour stirred the flames, officials said.

“We have to be prudent because the fire remains very active,” Gabriela Bravo, the regional head of interior affairs in the Valencia region, told reporters.

“Our main enemy was the weather. It did not help at all, the wind activated” the fire, she said.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the blaze proved “the climate emergency exists”.

“We are leaving winter and we are already experiencing wildfires that are typical of the summer months,” he said, visiting the affected area of eastern Valencia.

14 firefighters have suffered minor injuries while battling the blaze.

Officials say Spain’s wildfires season now runs from spring to autumn, rather than just during the summer.

The country is experiencing long-term drought after three years of below-average rainfall.

Climate change is amplifying droughts that create ideal conditions for wildfires to spread out-of-control and inflict unprecedented material and environmental damage. 

In 2022, a particularly bad year for wildfires in Europe, Spain was the continent’s worst-hit country. Nearly 500 blazes destroyed more than 300,000 hectares, according to the European Forest Fire Information System.

© AFP 2023

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