WE’RE still in March and after one of the driest winters in the past decade, the first major wildfire of 2023 has so far destroyed 4,000 hectares and continues to burn furiously. The blaze, which began on Thursday in Villanueva de Viver, has continued to burn all day and this afternoon gained momentum and moved even faster than had been feared. The fire took hold in a barranco (a dry river bed) full of vegetation and became much stronger, so much so that several teams of firefighters on the ground had to pull back.
So far some 1,500 people have had to be evacuated from their homes in the affected towns, including Montanejos due to the ferocity of the flames. The other evacuated towns and villages are: Villanueva de Viver, Fuente la Reina, Los Calpes, Los Cantos, La Monzona, Puebla de Arenoso, Montanejos, Montán and Arañuel.
Mayor of Montanejos, Miguel Sandalinas, speaking to Cadena Ser radio today explained that his and neighbouring towns had been evacuated, many to nearby Sagunto, including residents of a care home for the elderly.
He said: “It’s a very mountainous area, with abundant vegetation and when it doesn’t rain this vegetation becomes dry. Also, in recent years we’ve had snowfalls and many pine trees have fallen over and are lying on the ground, meaning there is lots of munition so that when an unfortunate event like this occurs, it leads to something devastating.”
He said it was far too premature to talk about when residents might be able to return home and added that while the current poniente wind (coming from inland) continued, the situation was “very worrying”.
Regional Justice minister, Gabriela Bravo, today visited the command centre where the operation, which includes more than 500 personnel, is being coordinated, in Barracas (Castellón). Tomorrow the centre will be visited by the presidents of both regions: Ximo Puig (Valencia) and Javier Lambán (Aragón).
Bravo explained that tonight, without the help of aerial firefighting teams, all efforts would focus on creating an anchorage point around the road towards the town of Montanejos, with a controlled burn or fuego técnico, in order to try to stop the advance of the flames, which now cover a perimeter of about 40 kilometres, If this strategy does not bear fruit during the night “it will be much more complicated” on Saturday, she warned.
However, Bravo wouldn’t be drawn on reports by some media that the Civil Guard police were investigating a case of negligence during some agricultural work in Villanueva de Viver which may have triggered the fire.