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Wildfire prompts hundreds to evacuate in western Spain

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MADRID >> Some 700 people were evacuated from four small towns in western Spain owing to a wildfire fanned by strong winds that has razed some 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres), officials said Friday.

More than 400 firefighters, including 50 agents from the army’s Military Emergency Unit, are battling to bring the fire under control in Las Hurdes, a hilly area west of Madrid.

Officials suspect the fire, which began Wednesday night, was started intentionally as they say two separate blazes erupted almost simultaneously.

The president of the surrounding region of Extremadura, Guillermo Fernández Vara, said the person responsible “knew very well what they were doing” to cause the most damage by starting the blaze at night, making it more difficult to extinguish.

Many wildfires in Spain are believed by police and officials to be started intentionally. The reasons why are said to vary.

Fernández Vara said the problem Friday was not a lack of means to fight the blaze, but the winds.

“With 60 kph (40 mph) winds, it’s difficult to predict how it will evolve,” he told reporters, adding that the pine trees in the area were virtual “cans of gasoline, flame throwers,”

Some 267,000 hectares (666,000 acres) burned last year in Spain, making 2022 its worst year of fire destruction since 1994, government statistics say. That was three times the national average for the past decade.

According to the European Union’s Copernicus satellite observation service, Spain accounted for 35% of all burnt land in European wildfires last year.

Spain recorded its hottest and driest April ever last month and nearly 30% of the country is now in a drought “emergency” or “alert.”

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