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FIRE

Spain says huge wildfire under control after 7 days

A huge wildfire in southern Spain has been brought under control after it raged for seven days, killing a firefighter and forcing 2,600 people from their homes, regional officials said Tuesday.

Spain says huge wildfire under control after 7 days
Wildfire at the Sierra Bermeja mountain range in Malaga is now under control. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

The blaze, which officials believe was started deliberately last Wednesday in the Sierra Bermeja mountains near Estepona, “is under control”, Juanma Moreno, head of Spain’s Andalusia region tweeted.

Tweet from Juanma Moreno on wildfire. Image: Twitter

About 500 firefighters and 51 water-dropping planes who had been tackling the blaze were finally given some breathing room on Monday when a light rain started falling.

“The rain that has been falling for hours has been the best ally,” said Moreno who warned there was still “a complicated phase” ahead before the fire could be totally extinguished.

Erratic winds, scorching temperatures and low humidity levels helped turn the blaze into what the regional fire chief described as a “hungry monster” which ended up destroying more than 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres) of land.

Since Sunday, 260 soldiers from the military’s emergency unit also joined the battle against the inferno, which had claimed the life of a 44-year-old firefighter on Thursday. His funeral took place on Sunday.

READ ALSO: Firefighter dies battling southern Spain wildfire

Spain is the latest area around the Mediterranean basin to be hit by wildfires this summer, a seasonal phenomenon that climate scientists warn will become increasingly common because of man-made global warming.

Large fires have already ravaged parts of many Mediterranean countries including Greece, Italy, Turkey and Algeria.

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

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ENVIRONMENT

Police operation targets illegal water tapping in Spain

More than 130 people were arrested or placed under investigation for illegal water tapping last year, Spain’s Guardia Civil police said on Wednesday following a huge operation.

Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park”
Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park” in Andalusia. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

During the year-long operation, “133 people were arrested or investigated for extracting water through more than 1,533 illegal infrastructure devices”, the police’s environmental unit said in a statement.

A similar operation in 2019 had targeted 107 people.

Spain is one of the European countries most at risk from the impact of drought caused by global warming, scientists say.

Water usage issues are often at the heart of heated political debates in Spain where intensive agriculture plays an important role in the economy.

Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park” in the southern Andalusia region, one of Europe’s largest wetlands and a Unesco World Heritage bird sanctuary.

They were also operating in “in the basins of Spain’s main rivers”.

In Doñana, police targeted 14 people and 12 companies for the illegal tapping of water for irrigation, a police spokesman said.

Ecologists regularly raise the alarm about the drying up of marshes and lagoons in the area, pointing the finger at nearby plantations, notably growing strawberries, which are irrigated by illegally-dug wells.

“The overexploitation of certain aquifers for many reasons, mainly economic, constitutes a serious threat to our environment,” the Guardia Civil said.

The European Court of Justice rapped Spain over the knuckles in June for its inaction in the face of illegal water extraction in Donana which covers more than 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) and is home to more than 4,000 species, including the critically endangered Iberian lynx.

According to the government’s last official estimate, which dates back to 2006, there were more than half a million illegal wells in use.

But in a 2018 study, Greenpeace estimated there were twice as many, calculating that the quantity of stolen water was equivalent to that used by 118 million people — two-and-a-half times the population of Spain.

Spanish NGO SEO/Birdlife also on Wednesday raised the alarm about the “worrying” state of Spain’s wetlands.

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