Wildfire in Spain’s Ávila province continues to burn after razing 20,000 hectares of land

Three villages had to be evacuated due to the blaze, which is the largest to hit the Castilla y León region since 1984

A warehouse destroyed by the fire in Villaviciosa (Ávila). Video: Footage of the blaze.Video: RAÚL SANCHIDRIÁN / EFE | VÍDEO: EPV
Esther Sánchez

A wildfire continued to burn across the Spanish province of Ávila in the northwestern region of Castilla y León on Wednesday, although it was coming under control. The blaze began on Saturday and was sparked after a car was set alight following an accident on the N-502 highway near the municipality of Navalcruz. It has since become the largest fire to hit Castilla y León since 1984, when the national government devolved powers to the region.

Juan Carlos Suárez-Quiñones, the head of the environment department in Castilla y León, said on Monday that the blaze was fueled by a “perfect storm” of factors: temperatures close to 40ºC during the heatwave in Spain (a record high for the area), less than 30% humidity (it dropped to 4%) and sustained winds of between 40 and 45 kilometers per hour, with gusts of up to 60 kilometers per hour.

Two firefighters work to put out the blaze between Navalacruz and Riofrío on Monday.
Two firefighters work to put out the blaze between Navalacruz and Riofrío on Monday.CESAR MANSO (AFP)

According to the Ministry for Ecological Transition, the wildfire has a perimeter of 130 kilometers and has razed more than 20,000 hectares of land. Most of the area affected is made up of scrubland, oak, pasture and some pine. The most dangerous part of the fire is now at its southern front, near the municipalities of Navalacruz, Navaquesera, Villarejo and Navalmoral de la Sierra.

Three villages – Solosancho, Riofrío and Sotalbo – had to be evacuated on Sunday, although residents were able to return on Monday as the fire stabilized. But even in these areas, there are still fire hotspots. In Riofrío, for example, locals have been working to put out a fire at the edge of the village with whatever they can, including branches, water and sticks. The mayor, Pilar Galán, said the village was also getting help from firefighting aircraft such as water bombers “because the area is very rugged.” She explained: “We are on tenterhooks, when one goes out, another starts up again.” The mayor is also trying to find a way to help farmers feed their animals in the wake of the fire.

Locals in Villarejo try to put out a fire hotspot.
Locals in Villarejo try to put out a fire hotspot.Raúl Sanchidrián (EFE)

It’s an issue that is also facing Pedro Sansegundo del Peso, a livestock farmer in Navalmoral de la Sierra, where the blaze continued to flare up again despite being more or less under control. The wildfire has destroyed the warehouses where he kept animal feed as well as the farm where his cows would graze. “The only solution is to buy more feed and wait for spring to come, although it is going to be bad, because the fields are destroyed,” he said.

His son, who has the same name, is in Navalacruz, another one of the areas hardest hit by the blaze. By Tuesday afternoon, there were still small hotspots in the municipality, but the fire was fairly controlled. According to the younger Sansegundo del Peso, this was “thanks in large part to the work of the locals, who made firewalls with what they had” to prevent the blaze from spreading. Some built the structure by hand, while Sansegundo del Peso used his bulldozer. Others supported the workers by providing home-cooked meals. “I am proud of my people and my friends,” he said. According to him, 90% of pastureland in the area has been razed.

Locals of Navalmoral de la Sierra help emergency services fight the wildfire.
Locals of Navalmoral de la Sierra help emergency services fight the wildfire.KIKE PARA

“The difficult job of controlling and extinguishing [the fire] remains,” said Alfonso Fernández Mañueco, the premier of Castilla y León, at a press conference on Tuesday morning. The regional leader said work was already underway to restore the area and help those affected by the blaze. He announced urgent measures aimed at preventing soil deterioration, forest diseases and rain from shifting land, as well as initiatives to protect water purity.

The minister for ecological transition, Teresa Ribera, said on Monday that forest fires are one of the “most significant” impacts of climate change. “We know that extreme meteorological events, extreme temperatures with ever more frequent heatwaves, together with significant changes to rainfall underscore the degree to which large wildfires, drought and desertification form part of the effects of climate change which we must fight against,” she said.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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