The Valencian town of Cullera allowed a fireworks display to take place on the local hillside on Saturday night despite a regional alert for wildfires and an express reminder by the firefighting service of the potential dangers.
An ensuing blaze burned out of control until 2am, after detachments from eight municipalities (Cullera, Gandia, Silla, Catarroja, Alzira, Burjassot, Torrent and Sagunto) managed to contain it.
A spent firework that fell on the dry hillside ignited the fire shortly after 11pm. The flames spread so quickly that the entire hill was ablaze before the 14-minute show had even ended, and several homes had to be evacuated.
The event was part of the local fiestas in a region that takes pride in its traditions of pyrotechnics, and where every municipality vies to put on the best fireworks show. Cullera Mayor Ernesto Sanjuán, of the Popular Party (PP), refused to cancel the fiestas’ crowning event despite the high risk of fires following a particularly dry winter.
This is not the first time that the mayor has found himself caught up in controversy
Yet the firefighting department sent the mayor a fax on Saturday, reminding him of the “extreme risk of forest fires” (these words were written in capitals) that had been decreed by Valencian authorities.
The fax specifically mentioned “the fireworks show scheduled for tonight on the hillside of Cullera, near the castle.”
Sanjuán, who is also the provincial deputy for tourism affairs, seemed quite unconcerned about the fire and its consequences. He told the SER radio station on Sunday that he could not grant any interviews because he was too busy with the music band competition, and declined to speak to EL PAÍS.
This is not the first time that the mayor has found himself caught up in controversy. Sanjuán is currently facing court action for ignoring the complaints of 400 residents who put up with extremely loud noise from nearby pubs.
As for the fire, sources in the regional government said the mayor of Cullera would be held accountable, but the representative of the premier’s office, Serafín Castellano, also of the PP, avoided naming any names. “We don’t know who will or will not be considered responsible,” said Castellano.
Opposition parties are demanding explanations, at the very least. The Socialists want Sanjuán to resign, while Esquerra Unida del País Valencià wants future firework shows to be prohibited on the hillside of Cullera.