Firefighters tame blaze in Spain as heatwave raises risk

MADRID • Firefighters brought a wildfire in a forest in Spain's north-eastern region of Catalonia under control as scorching temperatures put most of the country at risk for blazes.

A heatwave fed by hot air from North Africa has engulfed large parts of the Mediterranean region in recent days, contributing to massive wildfires and killing dozens of people in Italy, Turkey, Greece and Algeria. Experts warn that climate change increases the frequency and intensity of such extreme weather events.

About 100 firefighters toiled overnight to tame the blaze in the Spanish province of Tarragona, which forced the evacuation on Thursday of about 30 campers and has destroyed about 75ha of protected forest, Catalonia's firefighting service said in a tweet.

The fire was under control yesterday morning, but 11 water trucks, a helicopter and two water-dropping planes were still at the scene of the blaze, the service added.

Elsewhere in Spain, dozens of firefighters were battling a wildfire which broke out on Thursday evening near the town of Rubia, in the verdant north-western region of Galicia.

This fire has so far destroyed about 200ha of land, the regional government of Galicia said in a tweet.

Spain's weather office Aemet said almost all of the country faced a "high", "very high" or "extreme" risk of wildfires yesterday due to the scorching temperatures. Only a sliver of the northern coast and parts of the eastern region of Valencia on the Mediterranean coast had a "low" or "moderate" risk.

It also said 15 of Spain's 17 autonomous regions were on alert for high temperatures, with the mercury forecast to reach highs of 36 deg C to 40 deg C yesterday in much of the country.

Temperatures could hit 46 deg C in the provinces of Seville, Cordoba and Jaen in the south-western Andalusia region. The hot weather is expected to last until Monday.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa urged people to avoid "risky behaviours" that could cause wildfires.

"We know that the next few days are going to be difficult," he told reporters on Thursday during a visit to a civil protection headquarters.

"We are facing a permanent challenge that is the result of climate change."

Spain's north-eastern Catalonia region on Thursday banned camping in forests and sporting activities in rural areas to reduce the risk of wildfires.

The heatwave comes after a "code red" report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) earlier this week warned that the world is warming far faster than previously feared.

According to a draft IPCC assessment seen exclusively by Agence France-Presse, increasing temperatures and aridity had lengthened fire seasons and "doubled potential burnable area" across the globe.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2021, with the headline 'Firefighters tame blaze in Spain as heatwave raises risk'. Subscribe