THE first major forest fire in the Valencia region this summer forced the evacuation of 160 residents in La Safor (Valencia Province) over the weekend.
Aided by high temperatures and strong westerly winds, the flames devoured 180 hectares of forest land between the towns of Rafelguaraf and Barxeta on Saturday evening (August 7).
Two urbanisations were evacuated as a precaution, although the rapid intervention of 75 terrestrial and five aerial teams of fire-fighters managed to bring the fire under control before it could cause any injuries or damage to property.
Evacuated residents were finally allowed to return home at 8pm on Sunday evening, while teams of fire-fighters patrolled the perimeter to keep watch.
However, this was not the only incident reported in the area on Saturday, as a second blaze broke out in nearby Palma de Gandia and a third in Chiva (inland Valencia Province) at almost the same time.
The emergency services worked round the clock for 24 hours to stop the three blazes in what was the first great test for the Valencian fire department this year.
This situation forced the extinction personnel to split their resources between the three blazes, making on-the-spot decisions about which to prioritise with the changing wind directions.
Generalitat spokespeople believe all three fires were started due to natural causes, although the Sepona environmental department of the Guardia Civil has launched an investigation into the Rafelguaraf incident due to the high frequency of cases reported in the same area over the last few years.
According to experts, the three worst conditions conspired at the weekend. Known as the ’30 rule’, there was a temperature of above 30ºC, gusts of wind of over 30 kilometres per hour, and air humidity levels were below 30%.
Weather predictions for this week are just as bad, with a new heatwave set to steadily push up thermometers throughout the region and trigger another red alert for extreme risk of forest fires this weekend.