Wildfire in eastern Spain forces hundreds to evacuate homes

MADRID (Reuters) - A forest fire raged in eastern Spain on Thursday, forcing hundreds of people to evacuate from nearby villages and sending huge plumes of smoke into the air.

Firefighters were alerted about the blaze near Villanueva de Viver in the region of Valencia just before 1 p.m. (1200 GMT).

Ten airplanes were fighting to put out the blaze, which had forced the evacuation of the villages of three villages. More than 1,000 people were forced to leave their homes, Cadena Ser reported.

Emergency services said they had set up a refuge for 600 people and a field hospital.

Winter 2022-23 in the northern hemisphere was the second warmest on record and unusually dry, EU scientists said on March 8. In western and south-eastern Europe it was drier than average over the winter, while the month of February saw record low levels of soil moisture in some areas, the scientists said.

Figures compiled by the European Commission's European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) indicate that last year was the worst year on record in Spain for forest fires with 493 blazes destroying 307,000 hectares (759,000 acres) of land.

(Reporting by Charlie Devereux and Elena Rodriguez; Editing by Frances Kerry)