Spanish ‘hero’ flees wildfire as blazes rage across southern Europe
Spanish man trying to protect his village from a wildfire narrowly escaped death when the blaze engulfed his digger – forcing him to run for his life while patting out flames on his clothes.
As wildfires raged across parts of southern Europe, shocking video emerged showing Angel Martin Arjona’s lucky escape from a huge blaze threatening the northwestern village of Tabara. Mr Arjona been digging a trench in a field to stop the approaching fire when the sea of flames closed in on him.
Reuters footage showed him driving fast before taking a turn near a fence. Seconds later his machine disappeared from sight, surrounded by high flames and smoke.
Mr Arjona – who has been hailed a hero by friends – ran out of the flames, stumbled and fell, then kept running, his trousers still burning and a firefighter in protective gear following him.
Mr Arjona, the owner of a construction warehouse, was taken to hospital by helicopter with serious burns after his dramatic escape, his friend, mechanic Juan Lozano, told Reuters.
“It could have burnt everything, absolutely everything. It did not because there are good professionals and people who have the balls to protect us,” Mr Lozano said.
Firefighters were battling blazes from Portugal to the Balcans on Tuesday as a record-breaking heatwave compounded fears about the impact of climate change.
Spain’s wildfires have directly claimed the lives of two people in two days.
The body of a 69-year-old sheep farmer was found on Monday in the same hilly area where a 62-year-old firefighter died a day earlier when he was trapped by flames in the northwestern Zamora province.
More than 30 forest fires around Spain have forced the evacuation of thousands of people and blackened 85 square miles of forest and scrub.
Passengers on a train through Zamora got a frightening, close look at a blaze, when their train halted in the countryside. Video of the unscheduled – and unnerving – stop showed about a dozen passengers in a train carriage becoming alarmed as they looked out of the windows at the flames encroaching on both sides of the track.
“Climate change kills,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Monday during a visit to the Extremadura region, the site of three major blazes. “It kills people, it kills our ecosystems and biodiversity.”
Teresa Ribera, Spain’s minister for ecological transition, described her country as “literally under fire” as she attended talks on climate change in Berlin.
She warned of “terrifying prospects still for the days to come” – after more than 10 days of temperatures over 40C, cooling only moderately at night.
At least 748 heat-related deaths have been reported in the heat wave in Spain and neighboring Portugal, where temperatures reached 47C earlier this month.
In Portugal, the charred bodies of an elderly couple were found inside a burned-out vehicle after they tried to escape a wildfire ripping across the northern municipality of Murça.
Murça’s mayor, Mário Artur Lopes, told SIC broadcaster the bodies were discovered around 4.30pm on Monday after the couple were involved in a car accident as they tried to get away from the wildfire.
“We found the car completely charred… the couple died inside the car,” Mr Lopes said. “It is a completely dramatic situation that is happening in the municipality of Murça… more than half of the municipality on fire.”
“Resources are insufficient,” he added.
Citing the mayor, Lusa news agency said the couple were aged over 80.
The couple’s death comes after a Portuguese pilot died on Friday when his waterbomber aircraft crashed as it fought a wildfire in the northern municipality of Torre de Moncorvo.
Murça’s wildfire is one of nine blazes sweeping across drought-hit Portugal, which has been battling a heatwave since last week.
In France, heat records were broken and swirling hot winds complicated firefighting in the country’s southwest.
“The fire is literally exploding,” said Marc Vermeulen, the regional fire service chief who described tree trunks shattering as flames consumed them, sending burning embers into the air and further spreading the blazes.
“We’re facing extreme and exceptional circumstances,” he said.
Authorities evacuated more towns, moving another 14,900 people from areas that could find themselves in the path of the fires and choking smoke. In all, more than 31,000 people have been forced from their homes and summer vacation spots in the Gironde region since the wildfires began July 12.
Three additional planes were sent to join six others fighting the fires, scooping up seawater and making repeated runs through dense clouds of smoke, the Interior Ministry said on Sunday night.
More than 200 reinforcements headed to join the 1,500 firefighters trying to contain the blazes in the Gironde, where flames neared prized vineyards and billowed smoke across the Arcachon maritime basin famed for its oysters and beaches.