On Friday, Spain’s first major wildfire of the year raged in the eastern Valencia region, destroying more than 3,000 hectares (7,413 acres) of forest and forcing 1,500 residents to flee their homes, according to authorities.
An unusually dry winter in parts of Europe’s south has reduced soil moisture, raising fears of a repeat of 2022, when 785,000 hectares were destroyed in Europe – more than double the annual average over the previous 16 years, according to European Commission (EC) statistics.
“These fires we’re seeing, especially this early in the year, are once again proof of the climate emergency that humanity is living through, which particularly affects and ravages countries such as ours,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told a news conference in Brussels.
In Spain, 493 fires destroyed a record 307,000 hectares of land last year, according to the Commission’s European Forest Fire Information System.
More than 500 firefighters supported by 18 planes and helicopters worked throughout the night and on Friday to tackle the blaze near the village of Villanueva de Viver, in the Valencia region.
Emergency services evacuated eight communities, said Gabriela Bravo, the regional head of interior affairs.
“We didn’t sleep well because of anxiety, wondering whether our home had burned down and thinking about the animals we have,” said Maria Antonia Montalaz, who was evacuated from nearby Montanejos.
While firefighters believed they were managing to control the spread of the flames, strong winds and “practically summertime temperatures” could reactivate it, Bravo said.