Spain wildfire forces evacuation of 1,400 people

A wildfire raging in western Spain on Friday forced the evacuation of 1,400 people from towns and campsites, officials said.

Madrid: A wildfire raging in western Spain on Friday forced the evacuation of 1,400 people from towns and campsites, officials said.

The blaze, which broke out on Thursday in the Sierra de Gata mountain range amid scorching temperatures, has burned over 5,000 hectares (12,400 acres) of land, the government of Extremadura region said in a statement.

Some 300 firefighters backed by water-bomber aircraft battled the wildfire, which was fanned by strong winds.

Some 1,400 residents of the villages of Acebo and Perales del Puerto, as well as holidaymakers from a number of mountain campsites, were taken overnight to the nearby towns of Caceres and Moraleja, the government added.

"Houses have been burned, I don`t know how many, two, three. Sheep have been burned. It`s a tragedy for the village," Acebo`s deputy mayor, Jose Javier Gonzalez Iglesia, told Spanish public television.

The cause of the fire was still undetermined but "everything seems to indicate" that arson was to blame, the head of the regional government, Guillermo Fernandez Vara, told reporters.

"When a fire is concentrated in a very specific area it is because the hand of man must have played some kind of a role, because it is not hotter and drier in the Sierra de Gata than in the rest of Extremadura," he said.

Roughly 600 firefighters were battling four other wildfires burning in the southeastern region of Murcia.

The fires have so far burned 620 hectares (1,500 acres) of land.

The head of Murcia`s regional government, Pedro Antonio Sanchez, said firefighters were "working intensely to stabilise" the blazes.

The risk of wildfires was high across most of Spain on Friday due to soaring temperatures, strong winds and parched vegetation, the agriculture ministry warned.

Wildfires have destroyed over 54,000 hectares of agricultural and forest land in Spain this year, exceeding the amount burned during all of the last two years combined, according to the ministry.

Most of the wildfires happened in July, which was the country`s hottest month on record according to national weather agency AEMET.

The average temperature in Spain last month was 26.5 degrees Celsius (79.7 Fahrenheit), the agency said Wednesday.

August 2003 had previously been the hottest month on record with an average temperature of 26.2 degrees Celsius.

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