Spain’s first major forest fire of the year is raging in the Valencia region | News

More than 500 firefighters are battling the blaze, which has forced 1,500 residents from their homes.

Spain’s first major forest fire of the year has destroyed more than 30 sq km (11.5 sq mi) of forest and forced 1,500 residents from their homes, authorities said.

The evacuations were carried out in eastern Valencia on Thursday and Friday, state broadcaster RTVE said, citing officials.

More than 500 firefighters, supported by 18 planes and helicopters, worked through the night and into Friday to tackle the blaze near the village of Villanueva de Viver.

Emergency services evacuated eight communities, said Gabriela Bravo, regional head of the interior.

Power was cut in some areas and at least three roads were closed by authorities.

“We were told to leave as quickly as possible. We grabbed pajamas and that was it,” an elderly woman told RTVE.

“We are all very concerned,” said Miguel Sandalinas, mayor of Montanejos, a town of about 550 people affected by

The country’s weather service AEMET said firefighting was hampered by strong winds, low humidity and temperatures above 20C (68F), relatively high for this time of year.

Smoke rises during a forest fire in Los Calpes, Spain, March 24, 2023. REUTERS/Lorena Sopena
Smoke rises from a forest fire in Los Calpes, Spain [Lorena Sopena/Reuters]

An unusually dry winter in parts of southern Europe reduced soil moisture and raised fears of a repeat of 2022, when fires burned 7,850 sq km (3,000 sq mi) of land in Europe – more than double the annual average for the last 16 years, according to the statistics of the European Commission.

“These fires that we are seeing, especially at the beginning of the year, are once again proof of the extreme climate situation that humanity is going through, which affects and devastates countries like ours in particular,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said at a press conference in Brussels.

The central government in Madrid will provide funds to extinguish the flames and rebuild the affected area, he said.

In 2022, the country experienced its worst forest fire year on record. The European Union’s Copernicus Earth observation program recorded 493 forest fires. More than 3,070 sq km (1,185 sq mi) of land has burned, according to the European Forest Fire Information System.

Environment Minister Teresa Ribera said “fires out of season” were becoming more common.

“Summer is getting longer, it’s arriving earlier and the availability of water and soil moisture is unfortunately decreasing, making us much more vulnerable,” she told reporters in Cádiz.

A European Commission report this month saw a lack of rain and higher-than-normal winter temperatures, raising drought warnings for southern Spain, France, Ireland, Britain, northern Italy, Greece and parts of eastern Europe.

“There is every reason to fear that there will be numerous and widespread events this year as well,” said Lorenzo Chicarese, a researcher at the Higher Institute for Environmental Protection and Research in Rome.

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