Spain says containing wildfire as conditions improve

Spanish authorities said Saturday that firefighters and soldiers were managing to contain a blaze in the country’s west that has forced hundreds of people to evacuate from nearby villages, as strong winds eased.

“Today we’re hoping to strike a blow against this fire… It’s a very intense task,” said civil protection coordinator Nieves Villar, adding that conditions were improving as high wind speeds of recent days dropped back.

Despite that improvement, Villar said authorities were “still far from saying this fire is under control”, with winds only expected finally to calm on Sunday, when there is the possibility of light rain.

Local authorities have blamed arson for the wildfire that broke out Wednesday near the village of Pinofranqueado in the sparsely populated region of Extremadura bordering Portugal.

The flames have ravaged some 3,500 hectares (8,500 acres) of forest and scrubland and forced the evacuation of around 700 people from several villages, the regional government said.

Villar said 600 firefighters had been deployed overall, including Portuguese colleagues. Backing them are 14 water-bombing aircraft, the regional agriculture ministry said.

Regional government leader Guillermo Fernandez Vara lashed out Friday against the “bastards” who set fires that cause “irreversible damages that take decades to recover, if they ever recover”.

Vara added that strong winds of up to 60 kilometers (35 miles) an hour had made controlling the flames “extremely difficult”.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez cancelled his participation on Friday at a rally in Extremadura ahead of regional elections on May 28 because of the blaze.

Spain, which is experiencing long-term drought after three years of below-average rainfall, has already experienced multiple wildfires this year.

The drought was made worse by an unusually early heatwave at the end of April that brought exceptionally high temperatures normally seen only in summer.

Temperatures hit 38.8 degrees Celsius (101.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in the southern city of Granada on April 27, the highest ever recorded in mainland Spain during that month.

In 2022, a particularly bad year for wildfires in Europe, Spain was the continent’s worst-hit country.

Nearly 500 blazes destroyed more than 300,000 hectares, according to the European Forest Fire Information System.

Scientists say human-induced climate change is making extreme weather events including heatwaves and droughts more frequent and more intense. They increase the risk of fires, which emit climate heating greenhouse gases.

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