Over 30 square kilometers of forest have been destroyed by Spain’s first major wildfire of the year, which has forced 1,500 residents to abandon their homes. The blaze occurred in eastern Valencia on Thursday and Friday, with more than 500 firefighters supported by 18 planes and helicopters working throughout the night and on Friday to tackle the fire near the village of Villanueva de Viver. Emergency services evacuated eight communities, and power was cut in some areas while at least three roads were closed by the authorities. The firefighting was hampered by high winds, low humidity, and temperatures above 20C (68F), relatively high for this time of year, according to the AEMET state weather service.
An unusually dry winter across parts of Southern Europe has reduced moisture in the soil and raised fears of a repeat of 2022 when fires burned 7,850 square kilometers (3,000 square miles) of land in Europe, more than double the annual average of the past 16 years, according to European Commission statistics. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said at a news conference in Brussels that “these fires we’re seeing, especially this early in the year, are once again proof of the climate emergency that humanity is living through, which particularly affects and ravages countries such as ours.” The central government in Madrid will provide funds to extinguish the flames and restore the affected area.
In 2022, Spain experienced its worst wildfire year since records began. The European Union’s Copernicus Earth monitoring programme recorded 493 wildfires, and more than 3,070 square kilometers (1,185 square miles) of land burned, according to the European Forest Fire Information System. Environment Minister Teresa Ribera said “out-of-season fires” were becoming increasingly common. “Summer is getting longer, it is arriving earlier, and the availability of water and humidity in the soil is unfortunately being reduced, making us much more vulnerable,” she told reporters in Cadiz.
A European Commission report this month observed a lack of rain and warmer-than-normal temperatures during the winter, raising drought warnings for southern Spain, France, Ireland, Britain, northern Italy, Greece, and parts of Eastern Europe. Lorenzo Ciccarese, a researcher at the Higher Institute for Environmental Protection and Research in Rome, said that “there is every reason to fear that this year too there will be numerous and widespread events.”