‘Thousands of hectares’ destroyed by wildfire in northern Spain

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Hundreds of firefighters battled a blaze in northern Spain on Sunday that forced hundreds to evacuate and devastated swathes of land, officials said.

Published: 15 August 2022 09:48 CEST

A volunteer member of a fire brigade walks next a wildfire near the village of Verin, northwestern Spain on August 4, 2022. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP)

The fire was raging in the Aragon region where around 300 firefighters were trying to contain the blaze with the help of helicopters.

At least 1,500 people were evacuated from the rural region that includes a natural park in the Zaragoza province, the regional government said.

READ ALSO: Are Spain’s wildfires a risk to people’s health?

The Aragon emergency services estimate “thousands” of hectares have been destroyed by the fire.

The “rapid spread” of the flames, stoked by winds, is “critical”, the regional president, Javier Lamban, told media.

Spain has faced 388 wildfires since the start of the year, fuelled by scorching temperatures and drought conditions.

The blazes have destroyed 261,930 hectares in Spain this year, more than in any other country in Europe, according to data from 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 in turn increase the risk of fires, which emit climate heating greenhouse gases.

READ ALSO: What to do and what to avoid if you witness a forest fire in Spain

Fires have blazed in other European countries including France, Greece and Portugal, making 2022 a record year for wildfire activity on the continent.

What causes forest fires?

According to the latest data from the Environmental Prosecutor’s Office, there were at least 179 people investigated and arrested for intentionally starting fires in the first half of 2022.

The most common reasons that have been revealed by the Forest Fire Statistics (EGIF) from the Ministry of Agriculture are to remove scrub and agricultural waste, to regenerate grass for livestock, pyromaniacs, vandalism and to making hunting easier.

READ MORE: Why are there so many forest fires in Spain?

Of course, not all forest fires in Spain are started deliberately. The high temperatures, winds and dry plant material, due to lack of rain in summer, all provide the perfect ingredients for fires across the country.

Declining rural populations in some of Spain’s regions are also causing more fires as fields are abandoned and plant life is left to grow wild. There are also fewer farm animals to help clear the land of scrub.