Firefighters, backed by soldiers, are battling a forest fire in western Spain on Friday that has forced hundreds of people to evacuate nearby villages, officials said.
Local authorities say that the fire, which broke out on Wednesday near the village of Benofraquiado in the sparsely populated Extremadura region bordering Portugal, was set “intentionally”.
The fire destroyed about 3,000 hectares of forest and shrubs, and forced about 700 people to evacuate their villages, according to the local government.
The head of the local government, Guillermo Fernandez Vara, told reporters that strong winds “make it very difficult to control” the flames.
He denounced the “scoundrels” who set fires that cause “permanent damage from which recovery takes decades, if it recovers.” Winds of up to 60 km per hour were recorded in the area in recent days.
The meteorologists expect that the weather conditions will remain dangerous, and that the winds will calm down on Sunday, amid the possibility of light rain in the region. More than 400 specialists, supported by 14 firefighting aircraft, are making efforts to put out the flames, according to the local Ministry of Agriculture.--
The fire brigade includes 165 soldiers from the emergency response unit of the Spanish army. On Friday, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez canceled his participation in a political rally in Extremadura ahead of local elections on May 28 because of the fire.
He wrote in a tweet late Thursday that he was following “developments of the forest fire closely.” Spain is experiencing a drought after recording below-average rains for three consecutive years, and has been hit by a number of forest fires this year.
The drought was exacerbated by an unusually early heat wave at the end of April, which was accompanied by exceptionally high temperatures, usually recorded in the summer, in most parts of the country.
The temperature reached 38.8 degrees in Granada on April 27, the highest level recorded on the Spanish mainland during that month.
The year 2022 was bad for Europe, especially in terms of forest fires. Spain was the most affected on the continent, with about 500 fires destroying more than 300,000 hectares of land, according to the European Forest Fire Information System. Scientists say that human-induced climate change is making extreme weather events such as heat waves and droughts more frequent and intense. It also increases the risk of fires that emit greenhouse gases.