A wildfire broke out on Sunday afternoon near Jávea, in Spain’s Alicante province, forcing around 1,000 people to evacuate their homes.
Twenty aircraft joined the firefighting effort on Monday, including hydroplanes and helicopters. On the ground, around 370 people were still battling the flames at midday, although firefighting officials said they did not expect to put them out fully before Wednesday. Over 319 hectares of land have already been blackened by the raging wildfire.
The blaze is ravaging the protected mountain area of La Granadella. Investigators believe it was started deliberately by an unknown arsonist who lit fires in quick succession in several spots, including hard-to-access areas of La Granadella.
People slept in local schools on Sunday night, and additional shelters have been opened up in the nearby towns of Denia and Benidorm
One of these fires began in El Saladar, near the popular beach of El Arenal in Jávea. This area is full of homes and authorities were particularly concerned about its potential damage to property, but the lack of trees made it easier to contain.
Homes have been evacuated in the residential estates of Tossalet, Pinosol, Cansalades, Villes Al Vent, Valle del Sol and La Guardia. A campsite called El Naranjal was also cleared of vacationers as firefighters continue to work to stop the flames from reaching Cap de la Nao.
The Valencia chief of the emergencies department, Josep Maria Àngel, said on Monday that he is moderately optimistic about the chances of preventing the flames from entering more residential estates in the area.
Several properties have already been destroyed by the blaze. The regional government of Valencia held a meeting early Monday morning to assess the damage, and a report is expected to be released later in the day.
From Benitatxell to Jávea
The first blaze began after 4pm on Sunday in the nearby town of Benitatxell, in an area known as Mirador Cumbres del Sol. Firefighters battled the flames by land and air and the fire was reported to be under control on Sunday evening.
But investigators believe that the unknown arsonist then started more fires outside the perimeter under the control of firefighters.
Temperatures approaching 40ºC coupled with high winds fanned the blaze, pushing it toward Jávea, a popular beach resort that is home to large British and German expat communities.
Around 10pm, the local police ordered residents in the districts of Tossalet, Cansalades and Villes de Vent to leave their homes. Several other residential estates in the area are under threat from the flames, representing hundreds of homes. People slept in local schools on Sunday night, and additional shelters have been opened up in the nearby towns of Denia and Benidorm to assist the evacuees.
Additional fires broke out in the towns of Moixent (Valencia province), Bolulla and Callosa d’En Sarrià (Alicante) on a Sunday marked by extremely high temperatures.
“Throw your gas canisters into the pool”
The wildfire in Jávea and Benitatxell has kept thousands of local residents up all night, wondering whether they would still have a home in the morning.
Fernando Blat, who owns a house near the residential estate of El Tossalet, walked out around midnight after authorities issued orders for residents to flee to safer ground.
“They kept saying over loudspeakers for us to leave our homes and throw any gas canisters into our swimming pools,” he recalls.
Blat saw the flames approach his home before leaving. When he joined his wife at a friend’s home, he told her to get used to the idea that instead of a house, “she was now going to be the owner of an empty lot in Jávea.”
But when he returned on Monday morning, the fire had simply burned the fence around the property and moved on, leaving the house intact.
“We’re lucky in that sense, but this is a disaster. Jávea has lost so much,” he says, standing in his garden under a rain of ash coming down from the sky.
English version by Susana Urra.
The emergency services said that the extremely hot weather, 40km/h winds and 20% humidity are making it difficult to put out the fire.
High temperatures are expected to continue throughout Monday. The Valencian town of Játiva recorded 43ºC on one of the hottest days of the year. Thermometers showed 42ºC in Ontinyent, 40ºC in Segorbe and 39ºC in Oliva, the national weather service Aemet reported.
Health services are warning residents of the Valencia region that parts of southern Alicante could easily reach 41ºC on Monday, including the municipalities of Orihuela, Albatera, Benejúzar, Callosa de Segura, Dolores, Bigastro, Catral and Rafal.