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Spain breaks wildfire records with summer heat far from over

Forest fires raging across Spain have already broken annual records in terms of hectares destroyed, with another grim milestone for the highest number of wildfires in a single year set to follow, new EU data reveals.

forest fire spain records
Spain is the European country that has suffered the worst wildfires so far this year. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)

Not only is Spain suffering scorching summer temperatures this year, but record breaking forest fires are raging across the country.

According to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) as of Wednesday 20th July, 193,247 hectares of land – and rising – have burned in just seven and a half months, with two or perhaps three months of high temperatures still to come.

The EFFIS data, which uses Copernicus satellites to track the fire coverage, shows that Spain has already reached its highest destruction mark since 2012 – when 189,376 hectares were razed to the ground – but has achieved the fiery milestone by July.

According to the data, Spain is the European country that has suffered the worst wildfires so far this year, with 0.38 percent of its national territory affected, followed by Romania, France, Croatia and Italy. 

A natural disaster analyst from Spain’s Military Emergency Unit (UME), Roberto García, told the Spanish press that the near-uncontrollable fires surpassed even their worst predictions.

“We didn’t think it was going to be like that,” García said, adding that a combination of the record-breaking heat waves, an unusually dry winter, and a pronounced lack of rainfall during 2022 have worsened conditions.

EFFIS statistics tracking hectares burned on a year on year basis (red bars) and number of wildfires (blue line). Photo: EFFIS
 
A notable – and particularly worrying – statistic from the EFFIS figures is that by July the number of fires for 2022 has almost passed the total number for both 2017 and 2019 in their entirety. 
 

Hotspots

In recent weeks Spanish news reports have been replete with images of firefighters fighting the blazes and helicopters dropping water onto the forest fires. But, despite the best efforts of the authorities, fires still continue to burn across Spain.

In Galicia, fires are ongoing, and as of Wednesday 20th July, 30,000 hectares of land have burned. In the northern region, two areas are of concern: Lugo, with about 11,100 hectares affected, and that of Valderras, in Ourense, which already reached 10,500, according to the Ministry of Rural Environment.

14,000 hectares have also burned in Zaragoza, in Spain’s northern Aragon region. The Ateca municipality has been heavily affected, reportedly worsened by a change of wind direction during the night from Tuesday to Wednesday. So far, it is estimated that there are about 14,000 hectares affected in Zaragoza overall and as many as 1,700 people have been displaced from five municipalities. 

In Ávila, Castille and Leon province, fires are also ongoing and as of yet uncontrolled, and like in Zaragoza have been worsened by changing winds. It is believed the fires in Ávila were started by a cigarette butt, and have so far  destroyed around 4,000 hectares and displaced 2,100 local residents.

In Guadalajara, the Valdepeñas de la Sierra area has faced fires since Tuesday, covering an area of around 3,000 hectares and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of local residents. 

READ ALSO: ‘More than 500 died’ during Spain’s heatwave: PM

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TRAVEL NEWS

640 flights cancelled as storm Hermine hits Spain’s Canary Islands

Torrential rains and high winds prompted the cancellation of more than 640 Canary Islands flights over the previous 36 hours, Spain's AENA airports operator said on Monday.

640 flights cancelled as storm Hermine hits Spain's Canary Islands

Most of the cancellations took place on Sunday, when 540 flights to and from the Atlantic archipelago had to be axed and another 54 rerouted as tropical storm Hermine battered the islands.

By 8:40 am (1040 GMT) on Monday, another 102 flights to and from the islands had been cancelled while six others were re-routed to other destinations, AENA said in an update on Twitter.

Most of the cancellations affected the two airports on Tenerife, the largest of the Spanish islands, which are located off the northwestern coast of Morocco.

AEMET said the rain would continue on Monday but would be “less intense” than at the weekend, saying the downpour had resulted in the islands’ “wettest
September on record”.

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