29 Jul, 2022 @ 11:30
2 mins read

FOCUS: How Spain is on track for the most devastating summer of fires on record

Fires Scorch Spain And France During European Heat Wave
July 17, 2022, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain: Firefighters of the government of Catalonia, specialists in forest fires (GRAF), carry out against fires together with forest volunteers.Due to the high temperatures, which reach the entire Iberian Peninsula, there has been a large forest fire, which affects 5 towns near the city of Manresa, in Catalonia..In some cases farms and houses have been burned, as the fire has advanced with great virulence. (Credit Image: © Eric Renom/ZUMA Press Wire)

BLACKENED earth, smouldering trees, the charred corpses of wild animals barbecued to a crisp.  The pungent tang of smoked pine and eucalyptus lingers in the air.

Such apocalyptic scenes have been repeated over and over across Spain, from Mijas on the Costa del Sol to the wild forests of Zamora in the northwest of the peninsula, to the hills just outside Madrid.

Dozens of wildfires have devoured tens of thousands of hectares and forced thousands to be evacuated from their homes in what promises to make the summer of 2022 the worst wave of fires since records began.

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An estimated 200,000 hectares of Spanish countryside has already been ravaged according to the latest figures released by the European Forest Fire System, overtaking the carnage of 2012 when some 189,000 hectares were destroyed in what was until now the worst summer on record.

Even as temperatures drop as the latest heatwave subsides, much of Spain remains on high alert for wildfires, its countryside converted into a dangerous tinderbox.

Firefighters on the Canary island of Tenerife are currently battling a blaze with a 27km perimeter, flames are encroaching on protected biosphere in Donaña, while in Valencia,  smoke stacks are visible from the Costa Blanca as woodland burns in Calles.

Two wildfires have scorched the hills above the Costa del Sol in the Mijas area over the last month, with yet another new blaze reported on Tuesday.

The tragedy was greatest in Losacio in Zamora where two people died in a blaze that destroyed more than 13,000 hectares of land in just two days.

Fires Scorch Spain And France During European Heat Wave
Credit Image: © Eric Renom/ZUMA Press Wire)

Firefighter Daniel Gullon Vara, 62, died tackling the flames, while Victoriano Anton Raton, a 69-year-old farmer was caught in the blaze as he attempted to get his flocks to safety after it suddenly changed direction.

While the blame has been laid on unusually high temperatures, forests neglected with years of mismanagement and the usual array of arsonists, negligent workers and downright idiots responsible for sparking the blazes, few deny the role of global warming.  

Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, was emphatic about the consequences of the climate emergency during as he surveyed the aftermath of a blaze in Extremadura last week.

“I want to make something very clear,” he said. “Climate change kills: it kills people, as we’ve seen; it also kills our ecosystem, our biodiversity, and it also destroys the things we as a society hold dear – our houses, our businesses, our livestock.”

Ironically, even those dedicated to fighting climate change played their part in the lastest devastation after it emerged that a Dutch company tasked with planting trees to offset carbon emissions had been responsible for starting a wildfire.

Land Life, a reforestation company with plantations in Aragon admitted one of its workers was to blame for starting a blaze that destroyed 14,000 hectares outside Ateca when a spark escaped from a mechanical digger preparing land for seedlings.

Spain Heatwave Wildfires
Ateca in Aragon where 14,000 hectares were burnt. Photo: Cordon Press

One of the starkest images of this month’s fires was the miraculous escape of a farmer who was attempting to dig a fire-breaking trench to protect his local town, Tabara in Castilla y Leon, when his tractor became engulfed by flames.

Angel Martin Arjona was caught on camera running from the inferno with his clothes alight. He survived with burns on 80% of his body.

Man Running From Flames

Astonishingly, authorities believe that 85% of the wildfires come about as a direct result of human actions, either set deliberately by arsonists or because of human error or negligent action.

On Sunday in Catalunya, a man was arrested for setting three blazes while in Mallorca on Monday, a German resident is in custody suspected of sparking seven fires in the Calvia area over the weekend.

While the veracity of the fires this year may well be stronger than anyone anticipated, it should hardly come as a surprise.

“For a long time we have been warning that climate change meant more intense heatwaves and more forest fires in the Mediterranean,” said Nuria Blazquez, a spokesman for Ecologistas en Accion.  “But maybe they’ve arrived sooner than we were expecting.”


Fiona Govan

Fiona Govan joined The Olive Press in March 2021. She moved to Spain in 2006 to be The Daily Telegraph’s Madrid correspondent and then worked for six years as Editor of The Local Spain. She lives in Madrid’s Malasaña district with her dog Rufus.

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