HOMES DESTROYED IN TAVERNES FIRE
Houses destroyed in large forest fire caused by lack of clearance
HOUSES went up in flames and residents became trapped by a wall of fire after an inferno broke out near the beach in Tavernes de la Valldigna (La Safor, Valencia) on Tuesday evening.
High winds and warm temperatures, combined with the Valencia region's worst drought in 150 years meant the scrubland near the country lane known as the Camí Marenys went up like a tinderbox.
Firefighters were called out at around 17.30 hrs by panicked homeowners and were forced to evacuate the rural villas in the area, which is close to the border with Xeraco and just a few metres from the sea.
Fortunately, nobody was hurt, although some of the houses suffered extensive damage.
Despite the flames spreading out and engulfing several kilometres of countryside within minutes, emergency services had completely extinguished it by nightfall.
Mayor Jordi Juan coincided with affected residents in heavily criticising the owners of abandoned plots which had caught fire.
These overground stretches of land are a forest fire risk, but are never cleared or attended to.
They are owned by banks which either repossessed them from private owners and developers who were unable to pay the mortgages on them, or were bought for 'speculation' investment and ' sat on' waiting for their value to go up so they could be resold.
All the plots were classified as ' urban', or residential and suitable for construction, in 2004.
But after seizing or purchasing the plots, the banks have never bothered to clear the knee-high weeds which, once withered and dried out, allowed the blaze to spread out of control.
"Property issues and hot weather are an explosive cocktail - neglected plots are like an gunpowder arsenal," said Sr Juan on his Facebook site.
"Many of these plots are owned by banks, bought for speculative purposes, and now, these same banks cannot even be bothered to keep them clean.
"Owners are legally required to keep their land in safe conditions."
This week the regional government announced that it will maintain the 40 per cent reduction in forest brigaes and emergency fire services in the Valencian mountains this summer.
Trades unions and other professionals are warning that the means to deal with fires in the region's mountains and forests this year are 'insufficient' and that summer holiday substitutions are not adequately covered.
This leaves Castellón province with 50 fire personnel less than was the norm until 2010 - in a year predicted to be catastrophic for wildfires due to the severe drought suffocating the region.
Fire personnel will once again be severely reduced this summer