Firefighters battle forest blaze in central Spain

Firefighters in central Spain are battling strong winds and high temperatures as they struggle to control a fire that has already destroyed over 5,000 acres in the provinces of Castilla-La Mancha and Madrid.

The fire broke out in Almorox near Toledo on Friday just as the one in Tarragona province in north-east Spain was brought under control, having reduced some 15,000 acres of woodland to ashes.

With temperatures expected to reach 38C (100.4F) on Sunday, 250 firefighters, supported by two planes and five helicopters, were working to contain the blaze. About 400 people were evacuated from the village of Entrepinos and spent the night in a sports centre at San Martín de Valdeiglesias. No injuries have been reported so far.

The Castilla-La Mancha government said the firefighters were being assisted by officers from the national and civil guard police forces, “many of whom were enjoying a day off but have volunteered to lend a hand”.

The terrain is difficult and the vegetation is highly combustible after a dry spring. As with the fire near Tarragona, the area is thinly populated.

Marc Castellnou, head of forestry for the Catalan fire department, said poor forestry management had contributed the ferocity and extent of recent fires.

“The countryside has been abandoned and we’ve stopped managing it,” he said. “We’ve forgotten the traditions of rural life and we’ve ended up with forests that are totally neglected with a fire risk that we never had before.”

Castellnou said forest floors were littered with highly combustible material which means the fire spreads so fast it is impossible for the emergency services to keep pace with it.

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Despite the 40C heat, tens of thousands protested in Madrid on Saturday against the newly elected city council’s plans to abandon the low-emissions zone known as Madrid Central.

As of 1 July, drivers will no longer be fined if they drive into the zone, rendering the scheme, which was introduced by the former leftwing mayor Manuela Carmena, ineffective.

The environmental group Ecologists in Action said the scheme had reduced nitrogen oxide levels by 48% in April compared with the same month a year ago.

The city’s new rightwing mayor, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, vowed to “address” the issue of Madrid Central although many in his own party, including his deputy, Begoña Vilacís, believe it should be retained.

In a sign that the authorities might bow to popular opinion, a council spokesman said Madrid Central had not been “abolished, suspended or eliminated” but was simply being “reconverted”.

Campaigners in favour of the scheme said they would mount “informative pickets” at the main accesses to the zone on 1 July in an effort to dissuade drivers from entering it.



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