Large wildfire burns over 1,600 hectares in Catalonia

Fire crews are bringing flames under control, but more blazes started this weekend in Albacete and Huelva

Flames engulfed over 1,600 hectares of land in Catalonia over the weekend (Spanish text).Video: @BOMBERSCAT (EP) | VÍDEO: EFE

Early Monday rains aided firefighters struggling to control the most devastating wildfire to hit Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region in the last two years.

By morning, fire personnel had created a perimeter around 90% of a blaze that started in Santa Coloma de Queralt in Tarragona province, where around 1,657 hectares of land have been razed. The most affected areas are the comarcas – traditional administrative divisions in parts of Spain – of Conca de Barberà and Anoia, where 168 people were evacuated from their homes.

A plume of smoke visible on Saturday that was caused by the Santa Coloma de Queralt fire.
A plume of smoke visible on Saturday that was caused by the Santa Coloma de Queralt fire. CRISTÓBAL CASTRO

Joan Ignasi Elena, the Catalan chief of internal affairs, and David Borrell, the head of the firefighting service, made a joint statement on Monday morning to provide an update on the fire, which on Sunday afternoon had still been raging unchecked and threatening to engulf places like Sant Martí de Tous and Santa Maria de Miralles. Borrell on Monday said that they were expecting to stabilize the fire “at some point today.”

Meanwhile, rural officers – forest rangers with law enforcement powers – are investigating how the blaze got started and pinpointed the spot where it began on Saturday afternoon: on the side of the road from Les Piles to Santa Coloma de Queralt, near a factory that makes plastics and polyurethane. From there, the flames quickly spread through a cereal field and dry brush, aided by the strong winds that blow through the area, home to hundreds of wind turbines. Local farmers were asked to help by using their tractors to create fire lines against the advancing blaze.

Investigators believe that human action was involved, but they are ruling out arson and focusing on acts of negligence such as tossing a cigarette butt out a car window, or accidental triggers such as a spark from a motor.

Other fires

Military emergency units are also battling a forest fire that began on Saturday afternoon in Liétor in Albacete, extending to the municipality of Hellín and the hamlet of Isso. A level 2 emergency has been declared due to the potential health hazard posed by the smoke. Another fire was detected on Saturday in Tobarra, around 10 kilometers from Hellín.

And in Villarrasa, in the Andalusian province of Huelva, a wildfire that began on Saturday was brought under control on Sunday after ravaging over 600 hectares, making it the first major fire of the season, according to regional authorities. Very high temperatures in recent days have been a contributing factor.

English version by Susana Urra.

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