Why are there so many forest fires in Spain?

Increasingly there have been more and more wildfires across Spain, but why are there so many? Are they caused by extreme heat waves or are they started intentionally?

Why are there so many forest fires in Spain?
Why are there so many wildfires in Spain? Photo: MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP

Wildfires have been sweeping across Spain this summer and some of the worst affected regions have been Extremadura, Castilla y León, Galicia, Andalusia and Catalonia.

This year in Spain has been the worst for forest fires in the last 10 years. Just over 200,000 hectares (495,000 acres) of forests in Spain have been lost to fire so far this year, more than in any other nation in Europe, according to the European Union’s satellite monitoring service EFFIS.

Some of the biggest fires have been in Zamora in Castilla y León, Las Hurdes in Extremadura and the National Park of Monfragüe.

In Tenerife, 2,700 hectares have been burned and 600 people have been forced to leave their homes.

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

While of course there has been an increase in fires because of the extreme heatwave over the past month, which has seen much of Spain experiencing temperatures well above 30°C and even into the low 40s, this is not the only cause.  

It has been revealed that 54 percent of forest fires in Spain are started intentionally.

“Around 96 percent of wildfires are caused by human activities and more than half, 54 percent of them are started intentionally”, said Raúl de la Calle, general secretary of the Association of Forestry Technical Engineers.

READ ALSO – MAP: Where are wildfires raging in Spain?

How and why are they started intentionally?

According to the latest data from the Environmental Prosecutor’s Office, there were at least 179 people investigated and arrested for intentionally starting fires in the first half of 2022.  

While not all the reasons for starting fires intentionally are known, the most common reasons that have been revealed by the Forest Fire Statistics (EGIF) from the Ministry of Agriculture are to remove scrub and agricultural waste, to regenerate grass for livestock, pyromaniacs, vandalism and to making hunting easier.  

“Arsonists, agricultural and livestock practices, revenge, issues related to hunting and economic activities,” are all to blame confirmed De la Calle.

Heat and lack of rain

Of course, not all forest fires in Spain are started deliberately. The high temperatures, winds and dry plant material, due to lack of rain in summer, all provide the perfect ingredients for fires across the country.

Declining rural populations in some of Spain’s regions are also causing more fires as fields are abandoned and plant life is left to grow wild. There are also fewer farm animals to help clear the land of scrub.

Spain’s Ecological Transition Minister Teresa Ribera last week stressed the importance of rural residents, saying they are “the real guardians of the land who are on the front line in the prevention of fires all year round”.

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Firefighters battle to control huge wildfire in Spain’s Valencia region

Some 300 firefighters spent a difficult night battling a huge wildfire in southeastern Spain that has burnt through nearly 10,000 hectares in an area notoriously difficult to access, officials said Tuesday.

Firefighters battle to control huge wildfire in Spain's Valencia region

The fire began when lightning hit the Vall de Ebo area in the province of Alicante late Saturday and it has since spread rapidly, fuelled by strong winds, forcing the evacuation of more than 1,000 people, Valencia’s regional government said.

“It’s been a very complicated night,” regional interior minister Gabriela Bravo told Antena 3 television, saying some 300 firefighters were battling the flames, backed by 24 planes and helicopters.

“At the moment we are talking about more than 9,500 hectares burnt with a perimeter of 65 kilometres (40 miles),” regional president Ximo Puig said late Monday, describing the blaze as “absolutely huge”.

“It’s a very complicated situation… The fire is creating enormous difficulties that are absolutely impossible to tackle with the speed we would like.”

Firefighters elsewhere in the region were also battling two other wildfires north of Valencia city, with hundreds of firefighters and at least 10
firefighting planes engaged in the operation, officials said.

Further north, firefighters in the Aragon region were hoping to bring under control another major blaze that broke out Saturday that has burnt more than 6,000 hectares of land, forcing at least 1,500 people from their homes.

So far this year, Spain has suffered 391 wildfires, fuelled by scorching temperatures and drought conditions, which have destroyed a total of 271,020 hectares of land, according to the latest figures from the European Forest Fire Information System.

This year’s fires in Spain have been particularly devastating, destroying more than three times the area consumed by wildfires in the whole of 2021, which amounted to 84,827 hectares, the figures show.

Scientists say human-induced climate change is making extreme weather events, including heatwaves and droughts, more frequent and intense. They in turn increase the risk of fires, which emit climate-heating greenhouse gases.

Fires have blazed across Europe, particularly in France, Greece and Portugal, making 2022 a record year for wildfires on the continent.

In Portugal, a wildfire brought under control last week reignited Tuesday in the UNESCO-designated Serra da Estrela natural park, the civil protection agency said.