Spain’s Asturias ravaged by fires as the authorities blame ‘terrorist’ arsonists

Galician firefighters tackling flames in a forest during an outbreak of wildfires in Piedrafita in Asturias, Spain, on March 31, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS

SETIENES, Spain - The lush region of Asturias in northern Spain was ravaged by more than 90 wildfires on Friday, most of them believed to have been started by arsonists, whom the region’s leader called “fire terrorists”.

More than 600 firefighters were deployed to tackle the blazes, and several towns have been evacuated as the police closed off roads and highways.

The Spanish government has said it is worried more wildfires will flare up in 2023 after an unusually dry winter across parts of southern Europe and rising average temperatures due to climate change.

“They are burning our Asturias. We are dealing with real terrorists who are endangering lives, towns and cities,” Mr Adrian Barbon, the head of the regional government, said on Twitter.

Dozens of fires have already been put out by emergency services in Asturias and the neighbouring region of Cantabria over the past two days. Most of them were sparked on purpose and fanned by strong winds, the authorities said.

The police said they have opened multiple investigations, but no arsonist has yet been identified.

Penalties for arson can reach up to 20 years in prison, depending on the damage caused.

Mr Andres Perez, a 68-year-old resident of the town of Setienes, told Reuters he was convinced the fires were the result of arson, but did not know who was behind them or their motives.

“But what we do know is that it is total ruin, both for the ecology, materially and for everything.”

In the past, intentional fires have often been linked to pastoralists seeking to gain more grazing land for their cattle. Asturias revoked a law restricting cattle from grazing in fire-damaged forest areas in 2017.

“These fires are unparalleled, and it’s devastating to watch with impotence as the fires sweep over our land,” Mr Oscar Perez, the mayor of Luarca, told state broadcaster TVE. The municipality comprises 164 towns and hamlets.

The densely forested mountainous region of Asturias is one of Spain’s rainiest areas, though fires are common in March, according to the regional government.

A combination of scarce rainfall, high temperatures and winds has placed most of northern Spain at a high wildfire risk.

Spain registered its hottest March 29 on record on Wednesday, with temperatures exceeding normal levels by 7 deg C to 14 deg C, according to weather agency Aemet. REUTERS

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