Villagers flee as winds fan wildfire in eastern Spain

·1 min read

MADRID (Reuters) - Officials evacuated people from three small villages in eastern Spain on Monday as winds and dry weather fanned a wildfire ravaging the area.

Flames shot high into the air and plumes of smoke billowed from trees close to houses in another village, in a video shared by Valencia's regional weather agency AVAMET.

"We are receiving images that we would not want to see. The fire is gaining strength and is at the gates of Montan," AVAMET said on Twitter.

Spain's first major wildfire of the year has swept through woodlands in the Valencia and Aragon regions over the past five days, forcing around 1,500 people to leave their homes.

The villages of Higueras, Pavias and Torralba del Pinar, with a combined population of about 75, were the latest to be cleared, emergency services said.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the unseasonably warm weather was a consequence of climate change, as he visited the firefighting command centre in the Valencian province of Castellon early on Monday.

"The climate emergency is not a future emergency, it is a current and urgent crisis," he said.

Spain is experiencing a long-term drought after three years of below-average rainfall.

A European Commission report this month observed a lack of rain and warmer-than-normal temperatures during the winter, raising drought warnings for southern Spain, France, Ireland, Britain, northern Italy, Greece and parts of eastern Europe.

Authorities fear a repeat of 2022, when 785,000 hectares of forests were destroyed in Europe - more than double the annual average for the past 16 years.

(Reporting by David Latona; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Andrew Heavens)