Photo: Salva Ramos / Video: EP
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Massive wildfire in Spain continues to burn out of control forcing 850 people from their homes and another 6,000 confined

The Montitxelvo fire has already affected seven municipalities across three provinces and has a perimeter of 38 kilometres

Juan Sanchis


Friday, 3 November 2023, 21:37


The forest fire that started in Montitxelvo , in the Vall d'Albaida area of the Valencia region of Spain on Thursday, remains uncontrolled after a day of intense firefighting. The battle has been made more complicated for the emergency services by the strong winds blowing in the area. Nor does the orography of the land work in favour of controlling the fire, as it is complex and makes the work of the firefighters even more difficult.

Late this Friday afternoon, the regional minister Elisa Núñez, appeared at a press conference and reported that the fire has already devastated 2,580 hectares with a fire perimeter of 38 kilometres. The municipalities affected so far are Montitxelvo, Aielo de Rugat, Llocnou de Sant Jeroni, Ador, Castellonet de la Conquesta, Vilallonga and Terrateig.

The president of the Generalitat regional government, Carlos Mazón, who visited the advanced command post in the early hours of this Friday morning, reported that the number of people evacuated in the area exceeds 850, although no injuries or personal damage have been reported. For the time being, no further evacuations are expected.

Those evacuated from their homes come from the municipalities of Terrateig, in the Vall d'Albaida and Castellonet de la Conquesta, the villages of Ermita d'Ador and Monte Corona in the town of Ador, and several housing estates in Villalonga. Of the 850 evacuated, 87 have been offered shelter and the rest have either gone to relatives or to another home. Among those evacuated were residents of a mental health centre in Ador. In addition, the municipalities of La Font d'En Carròs, Potries and Ador have been confined by the smoke which means that six thousand people cannot leave their homes.

The fire, which started in the La Vall d'Albaida area, is already affecting municipalities in La Safor and El Comtat, the latter in the province of Alicante, where firefighters are fighting to prevent it from spreading to these areas.

Nearly 300 personnel are battling the blaze, including regular firefighters, forest forest brigades from the Consortium of Valencia and the Generalitat, as well as around 125 troops from Spain's Military Emergency Unit. In addition, reinforcements have been sent from Castilla-La Mancha and Murcia. Their main mission is to protect people as well as critical infrastructures, such as a gas tank, according to the Valencia Fire Consortium.

One of the main problems they are facing is that aerial means cannot be used to extinguish the fire due to bad weather conditions. This was confirmed by the regional secretary for Security and Emergencies, Javier Montero, after a meeting of the Integral Operational Coordination Centre (Cecopi) held this Friday morning.

Montero said that the head of the fire is not what worries them most because it will reach an area where there are crops and there it will be smothered: "We are very concerned about the southern flank because the fire could jump to the river Serpis and reach a forest area that could spread to another 4,000 or 5,000 hectares, which is what we want to avoid,! he said.

The councillor also informed the mayors of the affected municipalities of the need to maintain the confinement or evacuation measures adopted during the coming night.

The director of extinction and chief inspector of the Provincial Consortium of Firefighters of Valencia, José Miguel Basset, said that the fire "is not stable" but "calmer" than in recent hours, and said that it has been possible to position personnel "safely" along the different "active fronts".

Meanwhile, the Guardia Civil has reported occasional road closures between Real de Gandia and Villalonga; the CV-680 from kilometre 4.800 to 8.200; and on the CV-685 from kilometre 2.500 to 4.800. Also on Friday afternoon the CV-619 was closed to traffic between kilometres 5.2 and 7.2 in both directions due to the ashes of the fire, according to sources from the DirectorateGeneral of Traffic.

The extinguishing work also involved crews from the Alicante Provincial Consortium who had already been working in the area of l'Orxa, adjacent to Terrateig, to contain the advance of the fire through the province of Alicante.

In the words of the president of the Generalitat, Carlos Mazón, "the wind has been the main fuel" with gusts of 60 and 70 kilometres, which has facilitated the rapid advance of the fire.

The weather forecast from Spain's state weather agency (Aemet) for Saturday is that gusts of strong wind will continue in the interior of the Comunitat in the afternoon, although it will not blow with the intensity of Thursday or Friday. The official described the forecast as "adverse". The yellow alert for wind gusts will be maintained in inland Castellón and Valencia and for coastal phenomena along the coast of Castellón and Valencia and the north coast of Alicante. In addition, light rainfall is expected in the interior and not ruled out in isolated points of the coast.

Classes suspended

The Conselleria de Educación has reported that the fire forced the suspension of classes in the municipalities of Ador, Villalonga, Terrateig, Palma de Gandia, Potries, La Font d'en Carròs. Schools in Turís, Godelleta, Chiva, Buñol, Alborache, Alcàntera del Xúquer and Macastre were also closed due to the winds. In total, some six thousand pupils have been unable to go to school today.

The first warning of the fire was given at around 2.30pm on Thursday, with an outbreak that originated for reasons as yet unknown in the Font de Montitxelvo ravine, in the Vall d'Albaida region. At first it was not even considered a forest fire. However, due to the gusts of wind, which reached over 80 kilometres per hour in the area, the fire spread rapidly and was declared a forest fire at around 4.30pm.

In less than half an hour, the flames were already near the houses in the municipality of Terrateig, which had to be evacuated immediately. According to the mayor, Silvia Ferrer, the fire affected the sports facilities of the municipality, as well as a house that has been left uninhabitable.

In the end, about a hundred people left Terrateig because the residents of the most remote part away from the fire remained in their homes. Most of the residents have been taken in by relatives and a small group have gone to Benicolet, where the mayor, Iván Martínez, offered several municipal facilities.

Large column of smoke caused by the flames.
Large column of smoke caused by the flames. LP

Due to the evacuations, the Generalitat and the town councils set up shelters to accommodate residents in Potries and Llocnou de Sant Jeroni, with 100 beds in Potries and 300 in Llocnou de Sant Jeroni. According to the regional councillor, Elisa Núñez, 87 people have been accommodated and up to 380 places are available.

Meanwhile, in Ador, a shelter was set up by the Red Cross, which mobilised an Immediate Response Team for Psychosocial Intervention to attend to those evacuated from Castellonet and Monte Corona, some 350 people, while waiting for the groups to arrive.

In addition, the Emergency Coordination Centre reported that a resident of Terrateig, aged 85, had to be transported in a Basic Life Support unit to the Francesc de Borja hospital in Gandia, not because of the fire, but because of reduced mobility.

The CICU activated a preventive presence, made up of a SAMU (Emergency Medical Aid Service) unit, an EMV (Multiple Victims Emergency) vehicle and a VIR (Rapid Intervention Vehicle) unit.

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