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RESIDENTS AND HOLIDAYMAKERS EVACUATED AS FIRE SWEEPS ACROSS SOUTHERN HILLS
One of the worst blazes in living memory is thought to have been started deliberately

Monday 5th September 2016

javeamigos.com | JAVEA NEWS · FIRE 2016

One of the worst blazes in living memory has burned many acres and resulted in the evacuation of more than a thousand residents and holidaymakers from the urbanisations in the hills to the south of the municipality. There are unconfirmed reports that 20 houses have been destroyed and the regional government say that they believe that the fire was started deliberately but there will be no confirmation until the inferno has been extinguished and the investigators can do their work. At the time of writing, fire-fighting assets were still fighting to bring the inferno under control, almost two years to the day after a huge fire consumed much of La Plana.

The fire originated on the western slopes of the Puig Llorença below the Cumbre del Sol urbanisation at about 3.30pm, close to the viewpoint that overlooks the village of Benitatxell and the valley of Montgó. Temperatures had nudged 40°c on one of the hottest days of the year and a strong wind made the fire-fighting efforts difficult but, it seemed, not impossible. Investigators from the Guardia Civil’s SEPRONA unit had already declared that there were reports of three vehicles parked at the viewpoint just prior to the first reports of the fire and they did not rule out the possibility that someone who was leaning on the railings of the viewpoint threw a cigarette butt into the scrubland below.  By late afternoon it was reported to be extinguished and air assets were stood down. However, the nightmare was just beginning.

As the sun dipped in the sky, flames were spotted close to the same area and thick smoke began to fill the sky to the south. There were reports of more fires breaking out between the original site and the urbanisations bordering Camí Cansalades and fire-fighting assets were deployed from across the region to support those of the Protección Civil, Bomberos de Balcón al Mar and the Parque Comarcal, controlled from a command centre set up in the car-park of the Salones Carrasco.

As night fell, the hills were silhouetted in an eerie orange glow. Occasionally huge flames burst upwards towards the sky. The float parade in the port seemed muted as people stared open-mouthed southwards towards the extended line of orange stretching from the Arenal area to Cumbre del Sol. With safety units otherwise engaged, the Correfocs parade scheduled for midnight was cancelled and the members of the Fiesta Commission concentrated their efforts on putting together emergency food parcels for those who were being evacuated. (They would eventually suspend the fiesta programme for Monday.) The town rallied, offering beds in their houses and putting together food parcels for those displaced from their homes.

The fires advanced at a brutal rate through Adsubia, Pinosol and to the upper parts of Tossalet whilst a separate inferno broke out on the Saladar area close to the Arenal beach along Calle Atenas. The latter was brought under control by 11pm but as the main inferno continued to rage and more fires broke out, the UME – the Military Emergencies Unit responsible for providing disaster relief – was deployed in support with 43 personnel and 22 vehicles. Another 40 personnel would join them from their base in Torrejón.

It was reported that more than a thousand residents and holiday-makers were evacuated from houses within a wide area, initially from Tossalet, Cansalades, Pinosol and Villes del Vent. Later residents in Costa Nova were told to leave their houses and then, in the early hours, police ordered the evacuation of the Camping Naranjal site after the fire crossed the Camí Cabanes. By the early morning, residents of many of the urbanisations in the area had been told to leave their homes as a precaution.

The fire raged all night as fire-fighters battled against the flames; air assets were unable to support them until dawn. The flames devoured much of the protected mountain area of La Granadella, one of the most precious natural treasures of the Marina Alta region, before moving into the urbanisations. The command post reported that the efforts to fight the blaze were proving difficult because there was no defined front to the fire.

Rumours doing the round on social networks talked of the arrest of a possible arsonist or a group of arsonists. Although there was no official confirmation for some time, by dawn investigators began to acknowledge that there was a suspicion that the inferno had been caused by an arsonist.

Latest Updates:

UPDATE 04:45: List of evacuated urbanisations released - Villes al Vent, Cansalades Park, Valle de Sol, Valsol, Pinomar, Pinosol, Tossalet, Toscal, Entrepinos, Cap Martí, Costa Nova, La Guardia, Adsubia-Toscamar, La Colina, La Fina and Altos de Cabanes. In addition, Camping Naranjal.

UPDATE 06:15: Some 40 UME personnel deployed from their base in Torrejón to assist with the fire-fighting effort. Five brigades from Divalterra also deploying.

UPDATE 07:20: 258 people evacuated from the area are located at IES Antonio Llidó and 72 more than Colegio Sta María Magdalena.

UPDATE 08:00: Air assets deployed. Fiesta Commission announced that all events planned for today have been cancelled.

UPDATE 08:50: 511 residents evacuated from the area are being hosted at IES Antonio Llidó (279), in private houses (122) and at the shelter in Benitatxell (110). The Cruz Roja has mobilised assets from Dénia, Benidorm and Alicante to assist. There have been many donations of food and water and, for the moment, breakfast is covered.

UPDATE 09:05: 10 air assets have been deployed from the Generalitat with another five expected from the Ministry. Police officials confirm that Camí Cabanes will be closed until further notice and the general public are requested stay away from the area to allow fire-fighting assets to continue their work without hindrance. Residents will be informed when it is safe to return to their homes. At 09:30 there will be an inspection flight over the area to assess the current situation and an update will follow.

UPDATE 09:15: Reports from the Generalitat Valenciana confirm that the inferno was started deliberately.

UPDATE 09:25: According to the Ayuntamiento de Xàbia, parts of Urbanisation La Granadella have been evacuated.

UPDATE 11:00: The Guardia Civil reports that residents of Los Calistros in Benitatxell have been allowed to return to their homes. Reports suggest that the worst of the blaze is now affecting Granadella.

UPDATE 11:50: There will be a press conference at 13:00 at the Salones Carrasco with GV President Ximo Puig and mayor José Chulvi.

UPDATE 11:55: 370 ground troops and 20 air assets are fighting the blaze with efforts concentrating on the Granadella zone.

UPDATE 12:00: An estimated 319 hectares of urban and forest zone have been affected.

UPDATE 12:25: It has been confirmed that the 'bous a la mar' which was suspended this morning has now been cancelled for this year. The priority, the organisers have said, is fighting the fire and all means should be concentrating their efforts on that.

UPDATE 12:35: The Cruz Roja has deployed its ERIE Psychosocial Assistance group from Benidorm to assist with those who have been affected by this disaster.

UPDATE 12:50: With regards to the utilities, Iberdrola does not yet know when it will able to restore power to the affected areas after cutting supply at the request of the fire-fighting units. Movistar are yet to provide a full report but it is expected that it will begin to restore phone lines in several streets of Tossalet at 2.00pm. AMJASA have reported that there have been numerous leaks inside affected houses and their engineers have closed valves on the water meters to minimize loss of water. A label has been placed on those houses affected by this action.

UPDATE 13:05: The Ayuntamiento de Xàbia has said that anyone who has been evacuated should report to IES Antonio Llidó, the high school in the old town above the main market square.

UPDATE 13:35: The Protección Civil de Xàbia has requested that boats stay clear of the bay of Xàbia and Benitatxell for as long as the fire-fighting effort continues so as to avoid hindering the work of the air assets.

UPDATE 14:30: Precautionary evacuations in the zone of Cumbre del Sol are being carried out by officers from the Guardia Civil and Policía Local.

UPDATE 14:45: Air assets are working furiously to combat the flames and are releasing sea water over the affected area at a rate of one every four minutes. There are going to be more evacuations in the Benitatxell area, mostly as a precaution, and it has been felt that it is better to organise them now rather than during the hours of darkness. Mayor José Chulvi has called the inferno a "disaster" and extends his gratitude for all the help in Xàbia and across the Marina Alta as well as the administrations. Generalitat President Ximo Puig added that this was not the time for facts and figures and the important thing is the people.

UPDATE 14:55: Generalitat Valenciana President Ximo Puig says: "We will take all necessary measures to stop the fire and help the people who have been evacuated."

UPDATE 15:10: Generalitat Valenciana President Ximo Puig says: "This environmental terrorism puts the natural heritage of the Comunidad Valenciana at risk and acts against people."

UPDATE 16:15: The Fiestas Commission Mare de Déu de Loreto has called on all residents and groups who want to collaborate with them to provide fillings to make bocadillos for the people evacuated from the area as well as those volunteers and members of the fire-fighting assets working hard to extinguish the flames. Items such as bread, eggs, pork loin, potatoes, onions, ham, etc. can be brought to the headquarters of the Commission in Calle Severo Ochoa.

UPDATE 16:30: The police in Xàbia have kindly requested that the bay be left clear of vessels during the fire-fighting effort in order not to obstruct the work of the air assets taking on water to dump on the blaze. To regulate this, there is a police boat stationed in the Canal de la Fontana and two more stationed along the coast, including one from Dénia.

UPDATE 17:30: Another fire has broken in the Saladar zone close to the Consum roundabout. Both ground and air assets are in attendance.

UPDATE 18:10: Fire reported next to Carretera Jesús Poble close to Restaurante Montgó. Ground and fire assets deployed.

UPDATE 19:40: The latest briefing confirms that the fire affected the Granadella area during the morning which forced the evacuation of the zones of Granadella and Pic Tort. Later in the day, as the fire consumed the forestry park of Granadella, the flames threatened the urbanisation of Cumbres del Sol and forced more evacuations. In total some 1,400 people have been evacuated today. Provisional estimates suggest that some 349 hectares has been affected. 28 air assets were deployed during the day, which is half the Ministry's total fleet as well as 222 military personnel from UME and more units from the Generalitat. Evacuation efforts have been complicated with many people not wanting to leave their homes; there are two cases that particularly stand out; officers from the Guardia Civil were attacked by one home-owner whilst the second case saw an older couple with five children unable to leave since they had no transport. The fire-fighting effort has been complicated in an area of high occupancy and with four fires to contend with. This evening there was another fire on the Saladar and a smaller one in Les Valls. The Guardia Civl and SEPRONA have begun their investigations and everything indicates that they are dealing with arson. The units are talking to witnesses and collating all the clues and information of which there is a lot. The investigation is being conducted in secrecy at the moment. Anyone who has any information is asked to contact the Guardia Civil. The shelter in Xàbia is well stocked and people have been making donations and offering help.

UPDATE 20:20: Thanks to a huge response to the call for food and drink, the Fiesta Commission now have more than enough to deal with the current situation and are now looking for clothing. The response has been truly amazing and the commission and their volunteers have been working flat out to produce food parcels and snacks not only for the evacuated but also for the fire-fighting units battling the blaze.

UPDATE 20:20: The latest briefing shows that the area of the fire burning on La Granadella covers from 812 hectares encompassing the entire Parque Forestal de la Granadella.

UPDATE 22:34: Fire-fighting units working overnight will include 5 units from the Bomberos Forestals GV plus 4 more from the provincial department, 4 brigades from Divalterra and two sections of UME, the military disaster response unit as well 3 local brigades and 6 allocations from Alicante.

UPDATE 23:30: The Cruz Roja Española reports that under the direction of the Command Centre (PMA), those evacuees in the temporary shelters could return to their home but that two such centres will remain open for those who cannot access them.

THE MIRROR reported that a 93-year-old British resident lashed out at Guardia Civil officers trying to facilitate his evacuation from his home after suffering a panic attack. A spokesman said: "The clearance started with acoustic and light warnings using vehicle loudspeakers but the seriousness of the fire forced officers to go door-to-door getting residents out of their homes. The atmosphere was unbearable. The heat of the flames and the smoke left officers having to wear masks and dehydration was another of their worries. Moreover in many houses people had to be convinced of the danger they were in. Many could not believe what was happening and resisted leaving all their belongings behind. The Civil Guards went from house to house convincing them as if they were psychologists and trying to persuade them that it was best to lose belongings rather than their lives. Some of these conversations took place with the flames right behind them. So great was some peoples’ desperation that one of them, a 93-year-old English man, went into shock. The anxiety the situation left him in made him become violent and he began to attack everyone around him. Officers, who understood perfectly the state of nervousness he was in, managed to calm him down, although only after receiving more blows, and finally managed to get him away from the house he was in and help him reach safety."

Tuesday 6th September

UPDATE 01:00: The Ayuntamiento de Xàbia confirmed that the fire was been extinguished but there is still a risk that it might flare up again. Therefore residents will still be unable to return to their homes. Security forces and extinguishing teams will remain in the area during the night. The Ayuntamiento wants to thank all the people who have been fighting the fire and for the many volunteers that offered assistance in helping the evacuated people and preparing food, etc. Many residents offered their services as well as the commission of the Port Fiesta and many local companies that provided catering for the residents in the temporary shelter.

UPDATE 08:00: The first plane has been deployed to continue extinguishing tasks.

UPDATE 09:05: Camí Cabanes has been re-opened and residents are able to return to their homes.

UPDATE 09:30: The Policía Local confirms that people evacuated from their homes can now return. In the case of major damage to homes, owners can request the attendance of a police officer to assess the situation and possible risks. More updates will be given throughout the morning as well as a detailed summary of what has happened and what has been done in the past few hours.

UPDATE 11:10: The Cruz Roja de Xàbia reports that evacuated residents are starting to return to their homes but they are maintaining a staff of 14 at the shelter at IES Antonio Llidó.

UPDATE 12:25: GVA 112CV reports that the situation is looking favourable with 100 fire-fighting assets on the ground continuing the extinguishing work whilst a helicopter is on standby to react to possible outbreaks.

UPDATE 14:15: King Felipe VI has called President of the Generalitat Valenciana Ximo Puig to learn more abou the current situation with the fires at Xàbia and at Bolulla as well as express his solidarity with the Valencian people and especially with the residents direct affected by the flames. Puig explained that the Xàbia fire was in principle "controlled" and that residents have been asked to cooperate with any investigation to help identify those who are responsible for this disaster. The president also reiterated his gratitude to residents in the Marina Alta and especially in Xàbia for their solidarity in supporting and helping those affected, many of them foreigners and older people. He said that "it has been demonstrated that feelings of solidarity appear particularly during disasters".

UPDATE 14:30: Mayor Jose Chulvi released a statement; click here.

UPDATE 15:15: José Manuel García-Margallo, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation has been briefed on the current situation by the command staff at the PMA - Forward Command Post.

UPDATE 15:50: Juanjo Garcia Pastor, president of the Fiesta Commission of the Mare de Déu de Loreto, has spoken of his pride in the response of the commission and of the residents, visitors, the Fishermen's Guild, the organisations, the associations, clubs, business, etc. and has given his warmest congratulations and thank "from the bottom of my heart" for the effort, selfless involvement and collaboration that has been demonstrated from the word go.

UPDATE 20:21: The Concorci Bombers d'Alacant reports that the fire has been stabilised.

EL PAÍS reported that the Guardia Civil were looking for suspected arsonists believed to have set the fires that have destroyed more than 812 hectares of land. Investigators believe that as many as five fires were started in La Granadella area as late as Monday afternoon when the area was already full of fire-fighting units. Arsonists are also thought to have sparked the original fire in Benitatchell on Sunday afternoon. Juan Carlos Moragues, the government delegate for the region, said: "We want to hear about any leads" and reminded that the new Penal Code includes new, harsher punishment for this type of crime and that "whoever deliberately starts a fire is committing a crime and will feel the full weight of the law".

Wednesday 7th September

UPDATE 09:00: GVA 112CV confirms that the fire has been stabilised and that four land fire-fighting units remain working in the area, including three units from the Bomberoa Consorcio Alicante and one unit from the Bomberos Forestals GV.

UPDATE 11:55: The Ayuntamiento de Xàbia reports that work continues in the zone affected by the fire. Top priority is being given to affected residents (they are gathering all the information required for insurance companies in order to process and assess avenues of help from the administration). An assessment is being made of damage to public areas. It needs to be clarified that the Ayuntamiento de Xàbia is the only authority to reforest the burned area and that THERE IS NO AUTHORISED CAMPAIGN to collect funds (nor the sale of T-shirts or fundraising). The authorities also want to make clear that the Granadella zone is a special protection zone and will NOT BE REZONED, but all efforts will be directed into the proper regeneration of the forest.

UPDATE 16:20: Land and air assets are continuing to work on damping down small hotspots. These assets have included two planes, four units from the Bombers Alacant, three units from Bombers Forestal GV and 2 regional brigades. The Ayuntamiento de Xàbia has confirmed that despite tomorrow Thursday 8th being a local holiday, the OAC in Portal del Clot will be open between 9.00am and 1.00pm to assist those residents affected by the fire who need to process paperwork or need information. Due to the fire at Ramblars landfill site, the facility has had to close and garden rubbish cannot be deposited there. The Department of Services are looking for a suitable alternative plot for this type of waste but this will not be available until next week. It is therefore requested that the public keep their garden refuse at home until further notice.

Thursday 8th September

UPDATE: 09:30: Throughout the night, seven units from the Concorcio Bombers d'Alacant and one unit from the Bombers Forestals GV have been maintaining surveillance tasks over the affected area. The fire remains stabilized. This morning, they are being supported by a further unit from the Bombers Forestals GV, a unit from the regional fire-fighting entity and two brigades from Divalterra in damping down tasks. Guardia Civil and SEPRONA are focusing their efforts on seaching for the cause of the inferno with a witness claiming that they saw two cars leaving at speed from the urbanisation Cumbres del Sol just before the outbreak of the initial fire. Arson remains their main line of investigation. The fire at the garden refuse dump in Ramblars continues to be controlled. Residents of Xàbia have declared Friday 9th - the day of La Vuelta - as a "day of green" to show solidarity and green T-shirts are available with the slogan "Xàbia Sempre Verda" - Xàbia Evergreen - raising funds for the Protección Civil whose volunteers worked alongside the professional firefighters against the inferno.

UPDATE 14:00: GVA 112CV reports that a helicopter with a thermal-imaging camera has been mobilised to inspect and locate potential hotspot in the affected area.

EL PAÍS reported that the regional government will ensure that land damaged by the recent spate of forest fires in the region - including that of Xàbia and Benitatxell - cannot be rezoned for construction purposes. President Ximo Puig said that his administration's goal is "for nobody to ever have the slightest interest in burning down woodland for rezoning. The PSEO- led regional administration had already overturned earlier legislation allowing land damaged by fire to be used for building "on an exceptional basis". Puig confirmed: "This can no longer be done in the Valencian region. It can in other parts of Spain. We are dealing with environmental terrorism that affects this region's natural heritage and the lives of many people".

Friday 9th September

UPDATE 10:50: Work continues to bring the fire under control with several units from the Regional Forestry Brigade and the Alicante Fire Brigade.

Saturday 10th September

UPDATE 10:00: Work continues to bring the fire under control with units from the Regional Forestry Brigade and the Alicante Fire Brigade.

Sunday 11th September

UPDATE 13:00: Work continues to bring the fire under control with units from the Regional Forestry Brigade and the Alicante Brigade.

UPDATE 20:00: Fire officially declared controlled.

Monday 12th September

UPDATE 20:30: Fire officially declared extinguished.




 

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