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The first big forest fire in Spain in 2023 engulfs more than 7000 hectares

More than 500 firefighters are still fighting the blaze assisted by 18 planes and helicopters. Reuters

Castellon: More than 1,500 people were forced from their homes due to a major wildfire on Friday in eastern Valencia, Spain.

The incident is seen as adding to the growing evidence of the potentially deadly effects of the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis and supports the need for significant mitigation measures.

Spain’s first major wildfire of the year, which started in the town of Villanueva de Viver on Thursday, has burned more than 7,400 acres of forest and prompted evacuation orders in eight communities in the province of Castellón.

More than 500 firefighters were still battling the blaze on Friday afternoon, assisted by 18 planes and helicopters, as residents sought safety in shelters run by the Red Cross and other charities.

According to a local authority quoted by Reuters, “high winds and ‘near summer temperatures’ could reactivate the fire even if the firefighters thought they were controlling the spread of the flames”.

“Summer is getting longer and coming earlier, and unfortunately the amount of water and moisture in the ground is decreasing, making us much more vulnerable.”

The fire started “very early in the spring”, according to Ximo Puig, president of the Valencia region, and it was “very voracious from the start”.

Although the cause of the fire is still unknown, the area has experienced several months of dry weather, so there is no shortage of dry fuel that can be used as kindling.

Climatologists have long warned that as temperatures rise and droughts worsen due to runaway greenhouse gas pollution, wildfire seasons will lengthen and there will be an increase the number and intensity of conflagrations.

“These fires that we are witnessing, especially at the start of this year, are once again proof of the climate emergency that humanity is going through, which particularly affects and ravages countries like ours”, declared the Prime Minister Spanish Pedro Sánchez in a statement to journalists. in Brussels.

Atypically dry winter conditions in some southern European countries have reduced soil moisture and raised concerns about a recurrence of the 2022 drought, according to Reuters.

According to the European Commission, forest fires burned almost two million acres of territory in Europe last year, more than double the annual average of the previous 16 years. 493 fires have destroyed more than 750,000 acres in Spain alone.

Spain is bracing for drier and warmer weather this spring along its northeast shore of the Mediterranean as residents already battle a prolonged drought brought on by three years of below-average rainfall.

In particular, if the frequency, duration and intensity of heat waves are similar to last year’s record heat waves, experts have already begun to sound the alarm about the likelihood of another disastrous year. for forest fires.

There is every reason to be concerned that this year will also see a number of important events.

According to the Spanish Minister for the Environment, Teresa Ribera, “out of season fires” are more and more frequent. “Summer is getting longer and coming earlier, and unfortunately the amount of water and moisture in the ground is decreasing, which makes us much more vulnerable.”

Spain is not the only country in Europe to experience a drought; According to a recent European Commission report, drought alerts have been issued for southern Spain, France, Ireland, Great Britain, northern Italy, Greece and parts of ‘Eastern Europe. Low water levels “could affect strategic sectors, including agriculture, hydropower and power generation,” the commission warned.

“There is every reason to fear that this year too events will be numerous and widespread,” said Lorenzo Ciccarese of the Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research.

The United Nations issued a warning last year that wildfires are expected to increase by 30% by 2050 and 50% by the end of the century due to global warming emissions and climate change. land use.

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