MADRID – Firefighters in southern Spain are looking to the sky for much-needed rain on Monday and hope that within five days, a massive fire that destroyed 700 hectares and displaced about 200,000 people from their homes could be extinguished.
Authorities are describing the Sierra Barmeza fire, a mountain range in Malaga province, as the sixth-generation fire of the extreme type brought about by the planet’s changing climate. “Mega fires” are catastrophic events that kill, blacken large areas and are difficult to stop.
In Spain, this is associated with increasing population dynamics in rural areas, resulting in poor forest management and accumulation of burnable material.
Juan Sanchez, director of the fire service in the southern Andalusia region, told reporters late Sunday night:
“We’re talking a lot about the rural environment and the consequences of climate change,” Sanchez added. “We’re seeing them today.”
The affected area has doubled since Saturday, when authorities said the fires were within a 40-kilometer radius. Experts said Sunday that an amber cloud soon led to a new fire hot spot, resulting in a new fire that eventually joined the previous fire. By Monday morning, the circumference had reached 85 kilometers.
The Spanish Meteorological Agency, AEMET, forecast rain in the region after Monday, but it is unclear whether it will rain to put out the blaze.
About 500 firefighters were working shifts on the ground, with 50 water planes and helicopters from the air. On Sunday, 200 members of a military emergency unit joined them. A 44-year-old firefighter died Thursday while trying to put out a fire.
A total of 2,600 residents have been relocated. Most of those evacuated from parts of the resort town of Estepona were able to return home by Monday, but 1 villages00 people were displaced from six villages and took refuge in other towns, including a pavilion in the town of Ronda.
Climate scientists say the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is no doubt causing more extreme events such as heat waves, droughts, fires, floods and storms.
In Spain, official data show that the country has had fewer fires so far this year than the average of the last decade, but the number of large forest fires – affecting more than 500 hectares – was 19 in the first eight months of 2021, averaging 14 for the same period from 2011.
As a result, more bushes and forests have been burned: as of September 5, 0005,000 hectares, compared to an average of 1,000,000 hectares in previous years, according to the Ministry of Environmental Transformation.