Firefighters gain on early Spain wildfire

Firefighters gain on early Spain wildfire

The fire broke out in the eastern region of Valencia
The fire broke out in the eastern region of Valencia

MADRID - Spanish firefighters took advantage of milder temperatures on Monday to make progress in the battle to contain the country's first major fire of the year.

The blaze has ravaged 3,800 hectares (9,500 acres) of mainly forest since Thursday and is the first to be recorded so early in a season, which officials say now runs from spring to autumn, rather than just the summer.

The fire broke out near the eastern village of Villanueva de Viver, where unseasonably warm temperatures neared 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) on Friday and has already forced the evacuation of nearly 1,700 people.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the blaze proved "the climate emergency exists".

"We are leaving winter and we are already experiencing wildfires that are typical of the summer months," he said, visiting the affected area of eastern Valencia.

Over 500 firefighters backed by 20 water-dropping aircraft battled the blaze on Monday near Villanueva de Viver, local officials said.

The blaze "is not advancing beyond the perimeter that was established," government official Pilar Bernabe Garcia told reporters.

"We have the opportunity (to extinguish) it because temperatures have dropped," she added. The mercury was set to reach 19C on Monday.

Sanchez said nearly 1,700 people were evacuated in Valencia and the neighbouring region of Aragon and 14 firefighters were lightly injured.

Ximo Puig, the regional leader of Valencia who accompanied Sanchez, expressed hope that "good news" would be announced later Monday.

Spain is experiencing long-term drought after three years of below-average rainfall.

In 2022, a particularly bad year for wildfires in Europe, Spain was the continent's worst-hit country. Nearly 500 blazes destroyed more than 300,000 hectares, according to the European Forest Fire Information System.

Climate change amplifies droughts that create ideal conditions for wildfires to spread out-of-control and inflict unprecedented material and environmental damage.

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