July 15, 2019
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Heatwave triggers vast wildfire in northeast Spain that engulfs 13,600 acres

Tarragona, Spain, Jun 27 (efe-epa).- A heatwave that has engulfed Western Europe in recent days has kindled the first serious wildfires in Spain this year with a major outbreak raging out of control in a mountainous region of Ribera d'Ebre in the northeastern district of Tarragona that contains an important nuclear power station, emergency services said Thursday.

So far at least 5,500 hectares (13,600 acres) of forest have been consumed by the flames and firefighters say the amount of land that could be affected by the fire could reach 20,000 hectares if the high winds and baking temperatures do not abate.

The Ascó nuclear power station near the locality of Flix could be seen surrounded by a wall of heavy smoke from the brush fires near it.

Regional spokesman Miquel Buch said it was one of the worst fires to break out in Catalonia in the past 20 years.

Temperatures in parts of Spain have been rising steadily and were expected to reach 43 degrees Centigrade (109 Fahrenheit) on Thursday and Friday.

Fire services spokesman Antonio Ramos said the fire was the worst he had seen in the region since 1998 and had the potential to burn 20,000 hectares if unchecked.

Around 350 firefighters worked throughout the night to try to stabilize the perimeter of the wildfire with the help of about 80 fire vehicles, 10 tractors and heavy machinery.

A further seven aircraft, two command helicopters, three water bombing helicopter and another two water bombing airplanes joined in the efforts, with more aircraft due to arrive throughout the day, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said.

King Felipe VI of Spain expressed his concern at the fire while on a visit to the Tarragona Bar Association in Barcelona and told those gathered there it was unfortunate that the country was hit by multiple very destructive wildfires every year.

The President of the region of Catalonia, Quim Torra, arrived at a firefighting command center that has been set up in Vinebre to follow the efforts to put out the conflagration.

Although the day dawned with less wind which had fanned the flames during the night, very high temperatures have helped to spread the fire.

Fire crews were attacking the flames on two fronts, one near a road between Maials and Flix and another in a steep mountainous area that is difficult to reach by road, firefighters said.

Officials said the fire could have started in the town of Torre de l'Espanyol and spread through the areas of Vinebre, La Palma d'Ebre, Flix and Maials, to the south of the province of Lleida.

The regional government said it was investigating if the fire might have broken out in a dunghill on a farm in the area, although there were also reports that it could have been kindled spontaneously in the high heat that has been affecting the area in the past few days.

The government of Catalonia has been ordering the evacuation of villages that could be in the path of the flames.

Some 40 people, including some nationals of other countries, were evacuated from their homes and farmhouses late Wednesday due to the proximity of the flames and 22 of them have spent the night in a shelter located in Flix, the Red Cross said.

Another wildfire was brought under control in Humanes, in the central region of Madrid, officials said.

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