Strong winds drive early Spain wildfire
March 29, 2023 04:13 AM
Strong winds fanned the flames of Spain's first major fire of the year on Monday, complicating work for firefighters despite milder temperatures.
The blaze has ravaged around 4,300 hectares (10,500 acres) of mainly forest since Thursday and forced some 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 (86 degrees Fahrenheit) on Friday.
Three villages with a combined population of around 80 people -- Higueras, Pavias and Torralba del Pinar -- were the latest to be evacuated on Monday, emergency services said.
They were backed by 23 water-dropping planes and helicopters before night fell.
While temperatures dropped on Monday with the mercury reaching just 19C, strong winds of up to 70 kilometres (44 miles) 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 added.
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 added, visiting the affected area of eastern Valencia.
Fourteen firefighters have been lightly injured 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.
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.
Climate change amplifies droughts that create ideal conditions for wildfires to spread out-of-control and inflict unprecedented material and environmental damage.