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100 Wildfires in Northern Spain; Officials Say Arson Behind Most

A helicopter drops water to extinguish a forest fire in Montanejos, Castellon de la Plana, Spain, March 26, 2023.
A helicopter drops water to extinguish a forest fire in Montanejos, Castellon de la Plana, Spain, March 26, 2023.

Officials in the small northern Spanish region of Asturias claimed Friday that unspecified arsonists were behind most of the 100 or so wildfires raging in the heavily wooded and mountainous area.

Unusually high spring temperatures and gusting winds have helped spread the fires over the past two days, with about 400 people needing to be evacuated from villages and small towns and several roads cut off for safety.

Asturias regional President Adrián Barbón said the "full weight of the law" would be applied to what he described as "fire terrorists." He said the fires were started in an organized way by criminals taking advantage of the adverse weather conditions. He didn't explain what the alleged arsonists' motives might be. No arrests have been made.

Firefighters in the region reported early Friday they were dealing with 116 fires in 35 areas. By midafternoon, the number of blazes had dropped to 97.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez contacted Barbón from Beijing on Friday to express his support for the region. Speaking later at a press conference, Sánchez said that if it is proven the fires were started intentionally, the culprits would be punished.

Asturias region rural area councilor Alejandro Calvo told Spanish National Television that while the reason behind the fires is not really known, "evidently it is a wave of provoked fires that has no precedent."

There were no immediate details on how much land has been affected by the fires.

Some 267,000 hectares burned last year in Spain, making 2022 its worst year of fire destruction since 1994, government statistics say. That was three times the national average for the past decade.

According to the European Union's Copernicus satellite observation service, Spain accounted for 35% of the burned land in European wildfires in 2022.

Unexpectedly fierce wildfires burned more than 4,600 hectares of forest and led to 1,400 people being evacuated in eastern Spain this week. The blazes in the Castellón province were reported to have diminished considerably Friday.