Spanish authorities search for arsonists behind Jávea fire

javea-fire-2Regional leader calls blaze “environmental terrorism.” 1,400 residents have now returned to homes

The Spanish Civil Guard is looking for the arsonists believed to have set the fires that have blackened more than 812 hectares of land in and near Jávea, on the Alicante Mediterranean coast.

Over 1,400 people had been evacuated from their homes, in an area with large British and German expat communities. On Tuesday, authorities allowed residents to return to their houses to assess the damage from the flames, which reduced several properties to ashes and threatened 16 residential estates in Benitatxell and Jávea, in Alicante province.

“This was an act of environmental terrorism,” said Valencian regional premier Ximo Puig about a blaze that has also ravaged parts of the natural reserve of La Granadella, a protected green area south of Jávea.

Investigators believe that arsonists may have started as many as five new fires in La Granadella as late as Monday afternoon, when the area was already full of firefighting personnel. Compulsive fire-starters are also thought to have sparked the original fire in Benitatxell on Sunday.

The Civil Guard’s environmental crimes department is questioning witnesses and asking for the public’s cooperation

Seprona, the Civil Guard’s environmental protection department, is questioning witnesses and asking for citizen cooperation in finding the alleged culprits.

“We want to hear about any leads,” said Juan Carlos Moragues, the government delegate in the region.

Authorities underscored that the new Penal Code includes new, harsher punishment for these crimes, and that “whoever deliberately starts a fire is committing a crime and will feel the full weight of the law.”

Fire is contained
Regional authorities said that water is being dumped every four minutes on the affected area, and that the fires have now been contained.

Particularly high temperatures and windy weather have hampered firefighting efforts, while the dryness of the terrain in this drought-parched part of Spain helped the flames spread quickly.

Regional and national authorities deployed growing resources as the fires grew in scope throughout Sunday night and Monday. Military personnel joined the battle against the flames yesterday, along with 28 aircraft and 16 land vehicles.

Published ElPais 6 September 2016

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