Hundreds evacuated as Spain battles wildfires in northwest

Spanish firefighters on Saturday struggled to contain wildfires that have ravaged large tracts in the northwest, as a third summer heat wave grips the country.

A firefighting helicopter drops water over a wildfire in spain
A firefighting helicopter drops water over a wildfire near the village of Verin, northwestern Spain, on August 4, 2022. MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP

Firefighters were battling six blazes in Galicia that have scorched nearly 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres).

Some 700 people have been evacuated from the area around Boiro, where a blaze broke out on Thursday, according to regional officials.

But no casualties have been reported so far.

“The situation remains complicated. Helicopters are not enough to control all of the homes,” the mayor of neighbouring A Pobra do Caraminal, Xose Lois Pinero, wrote on Facebook.

Near the town of Verin, by the border with Portugal, authorities were managing to contain a fire that started Wednesday and is suspected to have been arson, Galicia government said.

Temperatures hit a 40.9 degrees Celsius (105.62 Fahrenheit) high on Thursday, according to the national weather agency. They have eased since, but were expected to remain around 35C across much of the country on Saturday.

Scientists say human-induced climate change is making extreme weather events including heatwaves and droughts more frequent and more intense. They in turn increase the risk of fires, which emit climate heating greenhouse

Spain has faced 366 wildfires since the start of the year, fuelled by scorching temperatures and drought conditions.

The flames have destroyed more than 233,000 hectares, more than in any other nation in Europe, according to the European Union’s satellite monitoring service EFFIS.


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Ten towns evacuated as Spain’s wildfire season starts early

Towns in Castellón and Teruel have been evacuated overnight as a serious forest fire has already destroyed over 1000 hectares.

Ten towns evacuated as Spain's wildfire season starts early

Spain’s first forest fire of the year in Castellón (Valencia) and neighbouring Teruel (Aragón) have caused around 1,500 people, the majority of them elderly, to be evacuated from their homes.

As many as ten rural towns have been evacuated amid a forest fire that has already devastated over 1,000 hectares of land. Over 400 firefighters are fighting the blaze, something made more difficult by weather conditions. Spain’s meteorological agency AEMET predicts wind gusts of 40 km/h and temperatures close to 30C throughout the day on Friday, and authorities fear that westerly winds could spread the fire to a nearby national park.

READ ALSO: Why are there so many forest fires in Spain?

The blaze began in a ravine in Villanueva de Viver, which is close to the Mudéjar road that connects the Valencian Community with Aragón and divides the provinces of Castellón and Teruel.

In Castellón, the municipalities that have been evacuated are Montán, Arañuel, Villanueva de Viver, Fuente la Reina, Montanejos, Puebla de Arenoso (and its districts Los Cantos, Los Calpes and La Monzona), all of which are in Castellón’s rural, often mountainous, interior.

In the neighbouring province of Teruel, the towns of Olba and San Agustín have also been evacuated.

Spain is no stranger to forest fires, but such a severe one in March appears to mark an early start to the wildfire season this year. 2022 was a record year for wildfires in Spain, with over 200,000 hectares destroyed. In fact, according to the European Union’s satellite monitoring service EFFIS, last year Spain had more wildfires than any other European country.

Spain’s high summer temperatures play a role, of course, but so do drought conditions and, sadly, people. Last year it was revealed that 54 percent of forest fires in Spain are started intentionally.

READ ALSO: What to do and what to avoid if you witness a forest fire in Spain

“Around 96 percent of wildfires are caused by human activities and more than half, 54 percent of them are started intentionally”, said Raúl de la Calle, general secretary of the Association of Forestry Technical Engineers.

Forest fires are normally more prevalent during the scorching summer months, but it seems that in Castellón and Teruel wildfire season has arrived early this year.

AMET spokesman, Rubén del Campo, warns of a “very high” fire risk this spring with the higher temperatures we have been experiencing, especially in the Mediterranean area.

Typical of summer

A spokesman from the Castellón Fire Brigade, Manolo Nicolás, told RNE program Las Mañanas that the severity of the fire is reminiscent of the summer season. “We are facing a fire more typical of the summer,” he said. “The causes are obvious: AEMET warned on Thursday of the water shortage, and add the spells of westerly wind that arrive with very low humidity that has dried out the vegetation, plus a large amount of flammable material, and we have the perfect ingredients” for a forest fire. 

Last night emergency services shared footage of firefighters battling the blaze from the air.

“The firefighters have managed to make good progress extinguishing the fire,” Nicolás added, because “weather conditions have been favourable,” for now. They hope to secure the perimeter of the fire before the changeable weather arrives, which is forecast for around midday.

It was initially speculated that the fire could have been started by machinery used to clean and maintain the forest, but this has not been confirmed. Salvador Almenar, Spain’s Director General of the Interior, said on Thursday that the cause is still unknown.

Spain’s Environment Ministry and Guardia Civil are in charge of the investigation.