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WILDFIRES

Are Spain’s wildfires a risk to people’s health?

Dozens of wildfires are currently destroying thousands of hectares of forest and land across Spain, but what impact can they have on your health if you happen to live in a province which is dealing with forest fires?

Are Spain’s wildfires a risk to people's health?
Smoke inhalation from wildfires can damage your health. Photo: MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP

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.

Just over 200,000 hectares (495,000 acres) of forests in Spain have been lost to fire so far this year, according to the European Union’s satellite monitoring service EFFIS.

As well as wreaking havoc across the local landscapes, they can be particularly damaging to our health too. 

Experts say that even more dangerous than getting burned by the fires themselves, is breathing in the smoke from them. This is in fact the leading cause of death during a fire.

This means even if you’re not actually that near the fire, the smoke in the air can still affect you.

According to the experts, pollutants and smoke particles from wildfires can travel thousands of miles away, so even if you’re in the next town, you may be at some risk.

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

What are the effects of smoke inhalation?

If a forest fire is particularly big and rages for a long time, like we have seen this summer in Spain already, then the damage from smoke inhalation can be particularly bad.

Particles from fires are very small – one-third the diameter of your hair, according to the American Lung Association, and can therefore easily get lodged deep in your lungs.

Fumes from these fires can cause coughs, irritated eyes, an itchy nose and scratchy throat. It can also be dangerous for those who are vulnerable and suffer from respiratory problems such as asthma.

Particle pollution can also trigger heart attacks and strokes.

Children, pregnant women and the elderly are particularly vulnerable when exposed to smoke. It has been found that these people are more likely to get coughs, colds and bronchitis after breathing in fumes from fires.

According to Cristina Martínez, an expert from the Spanish Society of Pulmonology and Thoracic Surgery, smoke is not only dangerous because of the particles it emits, but also because it can raise temperatures further. Smoke alone can cause burns inside your respiratory system, such as in your throat and your lungs.

Remember that if you have inhaled a lot of smoke, you should get checked out by a doctor, even if you feel fine, your insides might not be.

How can I minimise the damage to my health?

Chief fire officer for Madrid Víctor Prieto says that to eliminate these health risks, you should listen to the authorities and stay inside if it’s safe to do so. He also encourages people to close all doors and windows to make sure the smog doesn’t get inside the house.

If you do have to go outside, it’s important to make sure your nose and mouth are covered with a mask, so the air is filtered before you breathe it.

Remember to also always call the emergency services if you spot a forest fire. Even if it’s small, it can quickly get out of control.

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WILDFIRES

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.

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