Self-combusting manure at Spanish chicken farm blamed for devastating wildfire

Hundreds of firefighters continued to battle an out-of-control wildfire in Spain that authorities believe started after a heap of manure self-ignited amid a European heatwave.

Self-combusting manure at Spanish chicken farm blamed for devastating wildfire

The blaze, which broke out Wednesday afternoon in Torre del Espanol in the northeastern region of Catalonia, has so far affected more than 6,500 hectares (16,000 acres), the regional government said, an area about 19 times the size of Central Park.

The flames raging across a hilly area roughly 80 kilometres (50 miles) inland from the Mediterranean coastal town of Tarragona could eventually devour 20,000 hectares in what was presented as an “extreme risk”, a statement said.

Regional interior minister Miquel Buch said the firefighters would likely have to work through the night as they attempted to bring the conflagration under control while chief firefighter Antonio Ramos said “you'd have to go back 20 years to see a similar fire” of such dimension in the region.

Some 350 firefighters backed by around 230 soldiers and 15 aerial tanker aircraft were at the scene of the blaze.   

The fire raged several kilometres from the Asco nuclear plant but officials said the site was not at risk since winds were blowing the flames away from it and it is located on the other side of a river.

Firefighters said that steep terrain was hampering efforts to control the blaze, which spread quickly due to strong winds and soaring temperatures which neared 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) and were forecast to hit 42 Celsius on Friday.

“It's complicated. We won't get it stabilised today,” regional firefighting chief Manuel Pardo told Spanish public television.

'Critical situation'

Catalonia's forest agent service said the fire likely began when an “improperly managed” pile of manure at a chicken farm self-combusted in the extreme heat.

Around 50 people have been evacuated from their homes and five roads have been shut, the regional government said. Many evacuees told Spanish media they fled with just the clothes on their backs.   

“All I took with me were my car keys, my mobile phone, my wallet and my dogs. Nothing else,” one unidentified man told private television Telecinco.   

Around 30 people, including a handful of British and German residents, faced spending a second night in a school in the village of Flix, media reported.

Emergency services ordered the roughly 250 residents of the village of Bovera to stay indoors and keep their windows shut to avoid inhaling smoke. 

Vulnerable people such as the elderly faced similar instructions in nearby Maials, a village of 900 people.   

The charred land includes vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees. A farm burned down at Torre del Espanol, killing more than 200 sheep and at least two horses as well as a donkey, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.  

Catalan regional president Quim Torra warned that Friday was expected to be the “hottest day” of the heatwave “and the situation will be critical” in all of Catalonia.

He announced that harvesting crops would be forbidden in Catalonia to avoid accidentally sparking fires and access to mountains would be restricted as a precaution as long as the high temperatures continue.   

Meteorologists blame a blast of hot air from northern Africa for scorching temperatures early in the European summer, which could send thermometers to 40C and beyond in France, Spain and Greece on Friday.

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Spain urges holidaymakers to head home early due to snow and strong wind warnings

Nine Spanish regions were put on alert on Tuesday for heavy snow, rain and strong winds, with the country's traffic authorities calling for people taking holidays this long weekend to head home early to avoid the worst of the bad weather.

Spain urges holidaymakers to head home early due to snow and strong wind warnings
Vehicles stuck in traffic due to a heavy snowfall near Burgos, northern Spain, in March 2021. Photo: Cesar Manso/AFP

Aragón, Castilla y León, Catalonia, Navarra and the Basque Country will be on orange alert from Tuesday for snow storms, while Asturias, Cantabria, La Rioja and La Comunidad Valenciana are on the less-severe yellow alert, Spain’s State Meteorological Agency (Aemet) announced.

A slight increase in temperatures will increase the risk of avalanches in the Pyrenees and the central Cantabrian mountain range.

Some roads in the north of the country are already being affected by snow and are being restricted to some traffic such as trucks and heavy vehicles.

Spain’s traffic authority (DGT) called on residents in the northern half of the country to return early from the puente (long weekend) marked by the public holidays of December 6 and 8, ahead of heavy snow forecast for Wednesday.

Of the 108 main roads affected by the heavy snow in Spain, almost half of them are in the northeastern region Aragón.

Aragón, Catalonia and Navarra are at risk of avalanches, according to data from Aemet, while a storm warning has been issued for the coastal areas of Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Catalonia and the Basque country.

Heavy rainfall is expected in Galicia, extending to Cantabria and the western Pyrenees.