Early-spring wildfires ‘augur summer worries’ for Spain

Early-spring wildfires ‘augur summer worries’ for Spain
5 April 2023

By the Climate Centre

Some 200 local Spanish Red Cross volunteers in four specialist teams were deployed late last week as the north-west principality of Asturias was swept by wildfires aggravated by recent strong winds, after an unusually dry, warm winter.

The National Society was able to prepare a shelter (pictured) for 120 people only two hours after the first warning of pending evacuations was received, Juan Carlos Valle of the Asturias branch emergency response and emergencies team said on today’s IFRC Twitter space.

The Spanish weather service said yesterday that since 1961, March had only been drier than last month five times; rainfall has been about a third of the monthly average.

With spring only just beginning, the early spread of fires in Spain “augurs a worrying summer”, the Spanish Red Cross said Friday.    

‘Soil moisture’

By mid-March, Red Cross teams were addressing the impacts of more than 100 active fires in Asturias, about 30 in the neighbouring Cantabria region, and one in Castellón province on the other side of the country on the Mediterranean coast.  

Some 400 people were evacuated ahead of the fires in Asturias alone, which were battled by more than 600 firefighters, according to Spanish media reports, and the authorities are now opening an investigation to determine the immediate triggers.

The Red Cross says last summer was the worst for wildfires in Spain for ten years, with just over 300,000 hectares burnt: “If we do not want a repeat … the entire population must be aware that the climate emergency is more urgent today than ever.”

In October, World Weather Attribution scientists studying the climate-related extreme heat that affected much of the northern hemisphere last summer concluded that consequent “deficits in soil moisture led to poor harvests in the affected regions [and] increased fire-risk”.

Spanish Red Cross volunteers in four specialist teams have been assisting people displaced by a new wave of forest fires in Asturias, where they quickly prepared emergency shelter (pictured) for 120 people. (Photo: CRE Asturias)