DESPITE the best efforts of regional and local authorities, the weekend’s scorching temperatures, vicious westerly winds and electrical storms conspired to trigger several forest fires in Castellon Province.
By far the worst was registered in the outskirts of Azuebar (Alto Palancia), which forced the evacuation of the town’s entire population of 300 residents and was finally brought under control last night (Sunday).
The flames devoured a whopping 500 hectares of trees and undergrowth, severely threatening the protected and invaluable Serra d’Espada nature park.
According to fire department sources, the blaze was started by a bolt of lightning that hit the area during the dry storms that affected inland Castellon Province on Saturday and which also ignited another two fires in nearby Culla and Suera.
Although the initial fire was rapidly brought under control, sudden gusts of hot wind from the west fanned the flames and required a huge deployment of 23 aerial vehicles and more than 350 terrestrial fire-fighters to extinguish.
The proximity and rapid advancement of the flames forced the evacuation of Azuebar, with the more than 300 residents housed at municipal sporting facilities in the nearby towns of Soneja and Sot de Ferrer until finally being allowed back 15 hours later on Sunday evening.
Spokespeople for the Generalitat described the Azuebar fire as ‘the worst this summer’, while the emergency services remained at their posts to prevent a rekindling of the flames.
Reports also reveal that seven members of the fire department working on extinction duties required on-site medical attention after suffering heatstroke due to the combination of fire, baking hot winds and temperatures above 40ºC.
But this is far from the first time the area has been assailed by the flames. In the summer of 2014 alone, Azuebar registered seven separate forest fires, many of which were found to have been the work of an arsonist who was eventually arrested.
The red alert for forest fires decreed by the regional government remains in place for now, as do all restrictions on forest and mountain activity.