Hundreds of firefighters and volunteers worked around the clock on Sunday night to protect a natural area of incalculable value that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve. The fire was still burning on three fronts on Monday morning with two of them contained, and a third yet to be brought under control.
The fire has affected the area around Doñana National Park but not the park itself
But advantageous wind conditions and lower temperatures mean authorities are cautiously optimistic in their outlook about a blaze that has affected the natural reserve surrounding Doñana National Park but not the park itself.
Monday’s relative calm in the area comes after a dramatic weekend. In the early hours of Sunday, around 2,000 people were evacuated in the southwestern province of Huelva, where they spent the night inside makeshift accommodation or out on the beach. Another 50,000 were forced to remain for several hours in Matalascañas due to roads being blocked on safety grounds.
“At 1am [on Sunday] they evacuated us in a rush. Everyone ended up on the beach,” said José María Arce, who had traveled to the area with his family from the northern Spanish province of Burgos on a 12-day vacation, and who was considering canceling what is left of their planned stay.
Tourists were forced out of the Parador de Mazagón, a state-run luxury hotel, as well as the Solvasa hotel and two campsites, Doñana and Cuesta de la Barca. Also evacuated were all the personnel at the National Air and Space Technical Institute (INTA) and 500 or so immigrants who live at the Las Madres settlement and work in nearby greenhouses.
“People were getting into their cars and fleeing in the direction of the fire. It was complete mayhem,” added Manola Sanabria, another affected visitor. “They sent us to the sports center, but it was full of smoke.”
All main roads in the area were open again on Monday, emergency services told the news agency EFE.
Authorities suspect that the fire, which broke out at a spot five kilometers from the boundary of the huge Doñana reserve, did not start naturally. Strong winds with gusts of up to 90 kilometers an hour pushed the flames through an area filled with greenhouses and towards the national park, which is home to one of the few existing populations of the endangered Iberian lynx.
A lynx conservation center situated in the park was evacuated as well. Workers at El Acebuche captive breeding center were able to take 14 specimens with them, including five cubs, and released 13 others into the wild before vacating the building. On Sunday night, the Spanish Environment Ministry told the news agency EFE that the animals had been relocated, without specifying where.
But one female named Homer died as a result of stress during her capture and transportation away from the breeding center.
English version by Susana Urra.