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WEATHER

Forest fires rage in scorching France and Spain

A summer heatwave that has triggered devastating forest fires across southwest Europe showed no signs of abating Sunday, as parts of France and Spain readied for new temperature records early next week.

A plane flies near the smoke from a forest fire in Cazaux, France
A Canadair plane flies near the smoke from a fire near southwestern France's Cazaux, which was evacuated in the early afternoon of July 14, 2022. (Photo by THIBAUD MORITZ / AFP)

Firefighters in France and Spain are battling forest blazes that have ravaged thousands of hectares of land and forced scores from their homes since the start of the week.

It is the second heatwave engulfing parts of southwest Europe in weeks as scientists blame climate change and predict more frequent and intense episodes of extreme weather.

Firefighters in France’s southwestern Gironde region were fighting to control two forest blazes that have devoured nearly 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) since Tuesday.

“It’s a Herculean job,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Olivier Chavatte from the fire and rescue service, which has 1,200 firefighters and five planes in action.

Further evacuation orders were given on Saturday for a few hundred residents, firefighter spokesman Arnaud Mendousse told AFP.

“Several fires are still active in France,” interior minister Gerald Darmanin said in a tweet.

“Our firefighters are fighting the flames with remarkable courage,” he added.

READ ALSO: Firefighters contain ‘mega-fire’ in southern France

Since Tuesday, more than 14,000 people — residents and tourists combined — have been forced to decamp with seven emergency shelters set up in order to receive evacuees.

Meteo France forecast temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of southern France on Sunday, as well as up to 35 in the northwest, with new heat records expected on Monday.
 
“The heat is intensifying. The heatwave is spreading across the country,” the weather office said.
 
France placed 37 departments, mainly down its Atlantic seaboard, on orange high alert on Sunday.
 
Authorities in the French Alps urged climbers bound for Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain, to postpone their trip due to repeated rock falls caused by “exceptional climatic conditions” and “drought”.
 
The call comes after a section of Italy’s biggest Alpine glacier gave way at the start of the month, killing 11 people — a disaster officials blamed on climate change.
 
Deaths
Spanish authorities reported around 20 wildfires still raging out of control in different parts of the country from the south to Galicia in the far northwest, where blazes have destroyed around 4,500 hectares of land.
 

“So sad to see part of our natural heritage ablaze,” tweeted Spain’s Economy Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Nadia Calvino.

Another fire burning in the Mijas mountain range inland from the southern coastal city of Malaga has so far destroyed about 2,000 hectares of land, local officials said.
 
The fire forced the evacuation of just over 3,000 people but around 2,000 people have since been allowed to return to their homes.
 
 
“We didn’t stop working all night,” regional agriculture minister Carmen Crespo told Spanish public television of efforts to quench the flames.
 
Spain’s national weather office, AEMET, forecast “significantly high” temperatures for most of mainland Spain and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean on Sunday.
 
The mercury was expected to hit 42C in the northern city of Logrono and 40C in Madrid and the southern city of Seville.
 
A 60-year-old street cleaner in Madrid died on Saturday after suffering heat stroke the day before while working, local officials said. 

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ENVIRONMENT

You can now be fined €2,000 in Spain for leaving cardboard in the street

Two stiff fines handed out to Madrid residents who left cardboard boxes next to recycling bins rather than inside them have brought to attention a new Spain-wide law against leaving waste on the street.

You can now be fined €2,000 in Spain for leaving cardboard in the street

It’s not uncommon in Spain to see large cardboard boxes sitting on the street next to the bins, instead of inside them.

Whether it’s as a result of the contenedores de basura (bins) being full and the boxes not fitting through the slits, leaving cardboard by the side of the bin is something that most of us living in Spain have probably been guilty of at some point.

The alarming news is that if you commit this misdemeanour in Spain, you can now actually be fined for it.

A law was passed by the Spanish government in April 2022, but it is only now coming to light following two cases of people being fined for doing exactly this.

Article 108 of law 07/2022 states that “the abandonment, including littering, the dumping and uncontrolled management of any type of non-hazardous waste puts people’s health at serious risk or is causing serious damage or deterioration to the environment”, and it is therefore an offence.

Article 109 of the same law states that the fine for minor infractions can be up to €2,001, for serious infractions penalties range from €2,001 to €100,000 and for very serious offences penalties go from €100,000 to €3.5 million.

In late September 2022, a man in the Barajas neighbourhood of Madrid received a fine from the Madrid City Council, for “leaving a box outside the dumpster meant for the disposal of cardboard”. The city hall decided that he should pay €2,001.

This is the second fine that has occurred recently, with another woman being fined in Madrid’s Aravaca neighbourhood for leaving a large cardboard box outside the bins, which contained baby nappies she bought on the internet.

She was identified because her name and address were on a sticker on the outside of the box, but she has claimed that it wasn’t her who left the box by the side of the bin but rather one of the building’s concierges who was responsible for taking out the neighbours’ rubbish. 

There is no evidence that towns and cities in other regions in Spain are currently handing out such large fines to their citizens, but Spanish law states they are now at liberty to do so, and municipalities can also implement their own laws and fines relating to incorrect waste disposal. 

Madrid City Council has defended its actions pointing out that it has recently drawn up its own new law for the Cleaning of Public Spaces, Waste Management and Circular Economy, and that those who are fined can reduce the amount by 40 percent if they pay in the first 15 days after receiving the fine.

The aim of this is to have a cleaner city by implementing measures that “enable the reduction of waste generation to guarantee the protection of the environment and people’s health, and to promote a greater collective awareness,” the council said in a statement.

The draft bill is set to be approved in December and includes new penalties for offences such as leaving large cardboard boxes outside their corresponding bin, with proposed fines of up to €750 for not properly recycling bottles or other glass objects.

Madrid also plans to hand out €3,000 to revellers who don’t throw away bottles and other waste from botellones (outdoor drinking gatherings).

Between now and December, when the bill will be approved, citizens can put forward their arguments stating whether they believe the sanctions are too high and if they are justified before it is voted upon by the council.  

Madrid city mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida said he was “surprised” by the high fines but explained that the final amounts will be enshrined in the new decree. He hasn’t indicated what will happen to those who have already been slapped with the higher €2,001 penalties.

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