VILLANUEVA DE VIVER, Spain (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Spain’s first major fire of the year raged in the eastern region of Valencia on Friday, destroying more than 3,000 hectares (7,413 acres) of forest and forcing 1,500 residents from their homes, they said the authorities.
An unusually dry winter in parts of southern Europe has reduced soil moisture and raised fears of a repeat of 2022, when 785,000 hectares were destroyed in Europe – more than double the annual average for the past 16 years. according to European Commission (EC) statistics.
“These fires we are witnessing, especially at the beginning of the year, are once again proof of the climate emergency that humanity is experiencing, which affects and devastates countries like ours in particular,” said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez at a press conference in Brussels.
In Spain, 493 fires destroyed a record 307,000 hectares of land last year, according to the Commission’s European Forest Fire Information System.
More than 500 firefighters supported by 18 planes and helicopters worked through the night and Friday to tackle the blaze near the village of Villanueva de Viver, in the Valencia region.
Emergency services have evacuated eight communities, said Gabriela Bravo, regional home affairs manager.
“We didn’t sleep well due to anxiety, wondering if our house had burned down and thinking about the animals we have,” said Maria Antonia Montalaz, who was evacuees from nearby Montanejos.
While firefighters believed they could control the flames’ spread, high winds and “practically summer temperatures” could reactivate it, Bravo said.
‘MORE VULNERABLE’ TO FIRES
Spain is experiencing a long-term drought after three years of below-average rainfall.
Weather will be drier and hotter than usual this spring along Spain’s northeastern Mediterranean coast, increasing the risk of wildfires, meteorological agency AEMET told RockedBuzz via Reuters last week.
Environment Minister Teresa Ribera said “unseasonable fires” were becoming more common.
“Summer is getting longer, it arrives earlier and the availability of water and moisture in the soil is unfortunately decreasing, making us much more vulnerable,” he told reporters in Cadiz.
A European Commission report this month noted a lack of rain and warmer-than-normal temperatures during the winter, raising drought alerts for southern Spain, France, Ireland, Britain, northern Italy , Greece and parts of Eastern Europe.
“There is every reason to fear that the events will be numerous and widespread again this year,” said Lorenzo Ciccarese, a researcher at the Higher Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA) in Rome.
Winter in Greece has been the warmest for its northern regions in more than a decade, according to the Athens National Observatory.
Lack of rain and falling soil moisture will contribute to the spread of wildfires in heatwaves, said Christos Zerefos, head of the Athens Academy’s Research Center for Atmospheric Physics and Climatology.
The commission’s report warned that low water levels could hit strategic sectors including agriculture, hydropower and power generation.
Olive oil production in the European Union for 2022-23 will halve from the previous season, according to official estimates, largely due to a drought-induced drop in production from Spain.
Periods of drought have also affected production in Portugal and Italy.
(Reporting by Lorena Sopena, David Latona, Emma Pinedo, Antonella Cinelli and Karolina Tagaris; Screenplay by Charlie Devereux; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Angus MacSwan and Richard Chang)