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.

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Storms lash drought-hit Spain

Spain's weather agency issued weather warnings for large parts of the country Tuesday as several days of torrential rains following a prolonged drought caused minor flooding.

Storms lash drought-hit Spain

The heavy rains have mainly affected the southern provinces of Alicante and Almería which have been hit by several thunderstorms since the weekend.

Torrential rains have also lashed Madrid, where several roads were cut on Monday night due to flooding.

Flooding also temporarily interrupted traffic along stretches of three of the Spanish capital’s 12 metro lines, local officials said.

State weather agency AEMET placed most of northern Spain on alert Tuesday due to the risk of thunderstorms, hail and strong winds.

Most of the eastern region of Valencia, which is home to important tourism resorts such as Benidorm, were also on alert, along with parts of central Spain.

Experts said the torrential rains – which tend to trickle off instead of seeping into the ground – were insufficient to end the deficit in Spain’s water reservoirs.

Spain’s reservoirs, which store rainwater for use in drier months, were at just 47.5 percent of their capacity during the final week of May, down slightly from 47.7 percent during the previous week, according to environment ministry figures.

That is well below the ten-year average of around 68 percent.

Spain has registered the driest start to a year since records began, with less than half the average rainfall during the first four months of 2023, according to AEMET.

The government earlier this month approved measures worth more than two billion euros to alleviate the impact of the prolonged drought, especially on the agricultural sector.

READ ALSO: What is Spain’s ‘sea of plastic’ and does it affect UK food shortages?

Spain is the European Union’s biggest producer of fruit and vegetables, and the world’s biggest exporter of olives.