BRACAS, Spain, March 26 (Reuters) – Fire officials urged tourists to stay away from blazes raging in eastern Spain on Sunday, saying bystanders were putting themselves at risk and hampering efforts to put out the flames.
Emergency services said more than 500 firefighters backed by 20 planes and helicopters were battling the blaze four days after it erupted near the village of Villanueva de Vivre in the Valencia region.
Gabriela Bravo, the regional head of home affairs for the Valencia region, told reporters that police spotted 14 cyclists near the scene trying to get a closer look.
“We ask again and above all tourists not to engage in fire tourism, not to approach the surrounding area,” she said.
The first major forest fire in Spain this year has destroyed more than 4,000 hectares (9,900 acres) of forest and forced 1,700 villagers from their homes in the Valencia and Aragon regions, officials said.
Residents said the fire could have a devastating impact on the local economy, which relies on tourism.
“People here make their living from cycling, hiking, and a few bars,” said Jorge Grausel, 72.
“You see this and it is a disaster for everyone who loves nature.”
An unusually dry winter in parts of southern Europe has raised fears of a repeat of last year’s devastating forest fires.
Last year, some 785,000 hectares were destroyed in Europe, more than double the annual average over the past 16 years, according to European Commission statistics.
In Spain, a record 493 fires destroyed 307,000 hectares of land last year, according to the Commission’s European Forest Fire Information System.
(Reporting by Graham Kelly, Miguel Gutierrez, Guillermo Martinez); Editing by Andrew Heavens
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