The beautiful city of Valencia in Spain is covered in a pall of smoke and ash as wild fires burn out of control in the surrounding area. Hundreds of people have had to be evacuated from their homes.
The fires had burnt over forty five thousand hectares by noon on Sunday July 1, with two main focal points in the area of Cortes de Pallás and Andilla. According to El Pais, more than 2,000 fire fighting personnel worked through the night Saturday trying to control the fires but strong winds are hampering their attempts. Firefighting planes and helicopters are being deployed to help fight the fires.
The fires are the worst in Spain since 1991. Some angry residents have accused the Valencian government of cutting back on the fire fighting budget, an essential in a province which sees major fires every summer, however the government has insisted that is not the case.
People who have been forced out of their homes are being looked after by Cruz Roja (Red Cross) volunteers in four shelters. The paper reports that the fire started at around 4 pm on Saturday afternoon and was spotted by two horse riders who alerted the emergency services and nearby residents. However, the fire advanced very quickly, moving six kilometres in just half an hour.
Television channel Antena3 reports (in Spanish) that several roads have had to be closed due to the smoke and ashes reducing visibility to dangerous levels. The Spanish meteorology department is predicting rain which will help firefighters in their battle against the flames.
The cause of the fire has not been identified as yet but the area has been suffering an intense heat wave for over two weeks with temperatures up to 40ºC. Euronews is reporting that the cause may have been the installation of solar panels near Cortes de Palla and that two people have been arrested.
Valencia is the third most popular tourist city destination in Spain and the summer season has just begun. The city's airport is still operating but the pall of smoke will take some time to be blown away. Residents in the city and surrounds are having to sweep up ash as it falls onto their homes.
A forest fire is also burning near Barcelona but on a much smaller scale.