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Spain: Thousands left without power as Catalonia fire rages

August 5, 2023

Authorities started evacuating people from several Catalan villages as the forest fire spreads near the French border. Strong winds have fanned the flames while preventing water-bombing planes from taking off.

A helicopter douses water on a forest fire near Portbou, Catalonia, Spain on August 5, 2023
Fire crews are trying to stop the blaze spreading further south to a popular tourist resortImage: Europa Press/Abacca/IMAGO

Almost 140 people were evacuated in Spain's northeastern Catalonia region after a large forest fire spread across the equivalent of 600 soccer fields within a day, authorities said Saturday.

Local people were moved from several villages overnight as a precaution, along with a campsite not far from Portbou, whose railway station connects Spain with France on the Mediterranean coast.

An estimated 4,000 people lost power as a result of the blaze, the Catalan Civil Defence said.

Train services between Figueres and Portbou were temporarily cut and the main road into Portbou and to the French border was also closed.

French emergency crews help tackle blaze

More than 65 firefighting units were deployed by Catalonia authorities, accompanied by ten task force units from France.

Wildfires are on the rise in Spain due to heat and drought

The fire has so far ravaged some 435 hectares (1,100 acres) of land, with an estimated 2,500 hectares threatened.

Strong winds had helped the fire to spread overnight and prevented water-bombing planes from taking off.

The Catalan fire service said it expected airborne operations to be able to start later Saturday, after helicopters complete their reconnaissance.

The rugged terrain was also slowing down the ability of fire crews to bring the flames under control, the government said.

Costa Brava tourist resort threatened

The Catalan regional government said their objective was now to stop the blaze encroaching on the nearby tourist resort of Llanca to the south.

An investigation is underway into the cause of the fire, Catalan forest rangers said on the messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

Last year, some 500 blazes laid waste to more than 300,000 hectares in Spain, a record for Europe, according to data from the European Forest Fire Information System (Effis).

This year has seen some 70,000 hectares destroyed so far, according to Effis.

New tech shield against wildfires

Scientists say climate change is exacerbating heat waves in Europe, creating conditions where wildfires can easily take hold.

Drought prompts water usage curbs

Catalonia declared a drought emergency in 24 municipalities on Wednesday following a severe lack of rain in recent years.

Restrictions put in place from next week as part of the emergency will principally affect agricultural and industrial water usage but not drinking water, according to the region's water agency.

Irrigation water for agriculture will be reduced by 80% and supplies for industrial use by 25%.

Filling swimming pools and watering gardens and parks will be prohibited.

mm/dj (AFP, AP, dpa)