Spain: Hundreds evacuated amid huge wildfire suspected to be arson
Hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes in Spain as a wildfire blamed on arsonists ravages nearly 20,000 acres of lane near the country’s border with Portugal.
Emergency crews evacuated around 600 villagers in western Spain overnight on Thursday.
Around 260 firefighters and 165 soldiers continued to fight the blaze on Friday, authorities said.
Strong winds were making it harder to control the fire, in the areas of Las Hurdes and Sierra de Gata north of the city of Caceres, which have some of the densest forest in the region.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who had been planning to visit the Extremadura region ahead of local elections next week, had to cancel his trip, his press office said.
“The are very strong gusts of wind...that make efforts to extinguish it difficult,” Military Emergency Unit commander David Barona told state TV channel 24H.
“The smoke plume is spreading at a low altitude making it difficult for air assets to access the area.”
Officials said they believed the fire was started deliberately.
“It’s a very large attack on vegetation and the area,” the head of Extremadura emergency services Nieves Villar told reporters, referring to the suspicions of arson.
People evacuated from rural villages were given accommodation in a sports centre in the nearby town of Moraleja, and were taken in by friends and families, the Civil Guard said.
Several roads in the area were closed, it added.
An unusually dry winter across parts of southern Europe coming after three years of below-average rainfall in Spain have raised the risk of wildfires. Rainfall since October 2022 has been 28% below the average for period, according to state weather agency AEMET.
A total of 493 fires destroyed a record 307,000 hectares in Spain last year, according to the European Forest Fire Information System.
The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) warned of extreme danger of fires in other parts of Spain, especially around the city of Zaragoza in the northeastern region of Aragon. (Reporting by Inti Landauro, Emma Pinedo, David Latona; additional reporting by Catarina Demony; writing by Charlie Devereux; editing by Robert Birsel and Andrew Heavens)