Second fire breaks out in Bages as firefighters still struggle to contain the first

First fire affected over 1,600 hectares and was started by human activity

4 min
The fire at the Vilomara Bridge

BarcelonaA new fire has broken out in Pont de Vilomara and Rocafort, the same place where a huge forest started yesterday and burnt 1,600 hectares in Bages. This second fire started at 3 pm, near Pont de Vilomara rubbish dump. The flames are heading towards Manresa's Bufalvent industrial estate. This has forced the closure of road C-16 between Castellbell and Vilar and Sant Fruitós de Bages, and Les Arnaules masia was evacuated. Firefighters have expanded their operation with seven units to tackle this second fire, which is expelling a heavy column of smoke. Local residents have been asked to stay at home and close their windows. According to the authorities, by 5 pm 6 hectares had burnt.

Smoke from the second fire in Bages.

As for the first and main fire affecting Bages since Sunday, which forced 200 residents from their homes, it is now at its most delicate stage. The Fire Service succeeded in containing the advance of the right flank, which was the most active, but high temperatures and low humidity could lead to new outbreaks at any moment. Home Affairs minister Joan Ignasi Elena has affirmed the contention is "good news", but stressed 1,657 hectares had burnt. A potential 6,000 hectares may burn if the fire spreads through the Natural Park of Sant Llorenç del Munt and L'Obac, which it has already entered and affected 382 hectares according to Agents Rurals. Elena described this fire as "extremely violent" and as "one of the most aggressive that in recent years," because it advances quickly and with great force, affecting homes and causing "a lot of pain".

Images of the fire of Pont de Vilomara

Hundreds of Dire fighters have worked through the night to control the flames in what is now the second most powerful fire in Catalonia this year, behind one in Baldomar (Artesa de Segre). The fire started at 1 pm on Sunday in Vilomara and Rocafort, and spread very quickly, pushed by the south wind, during hottest and sunniest time of the day in a large swathe of forest, in the direction of Sant Fruitós. Although the origin of the fire is still being investigated, Foresters are certain it was caused by human activity – whether it is negligence, an accident or intentional – since there is no sign lightning could have started it.

The Catalan Department of Home Affairs says 4,500 people have been asked to stay in their houses and 200 people have been evacuated. They are the neighbours who lived in the front line of the fire, in the housing estates of Can Riera and Marqués del Paradís (in Pont de Vilomara) and Les Brucardes (Sant Fruitós de Bages) and who have had to spend the night in the homes of relatives or in one of the three shelters set up by the authorities. "It is not currently expected that they will be able to return home nor leave", said Borrell. Some of these neighbours, about sixty, have had to be treated by the Emergency Medical System (SEM) due to anxiety and distress.

Restrictions extended

More than 370 firefighters are working to control the fire, which formed a large column of smoke visible from Barcelona –more than 50 kilometres away– and many other parts of the country. Farmers have been tilling at the head of the fire, the Groups of Forestry Actions (GRAF) burnt areas ahead of the fire to stop its advance and since early this morning it has been joined by air units, according to the Fire Department. "It is an area of very complex access and we will again have a very hard day from 11 am due to weather conditions," confirmed the head of the GRAF, Marc Castellnou, in statements to Tv3. Minister Elena emphasised that the Bages is the only fire in Catalonia and, for the moment, it is not necessary to request help from the emergency military unit (UME). He assured that it is more a problem of weather conditions than of units.

Affected people in the reception centers to spend the night.

Although temperatures may drop a little as of Monday, the heat is forecast to continue and the next few hours are critical: from 10 am the wind is expected to blow hard again and the humidity will drop until, in the afternoon, the heat is expected to rise to 34 degrees in the affected area. These conditions raise fears that the fire may rekindle and, therefore, Elena has confirmed that the Special Emergency Plan for Forest Fires (Infocat) will extend all restrictions on access to natural environments and camping as well as limitations on farming activities in place in the 275 municipalities due to the risk of fire.

The minister pointed out that these measures are "harsh and very severe" but the situation is "extreme" and the most "prudent" thing is to keep them in place them because of the accumulation of heat and drought In addition, the heat will return at the end of the week, according to forecasts. On Thursday a new Infocat meeting is scheduled to assess whether to maintain the same measures in all municipalities, which will depend on the meteorological evolution.

In addition, an incidence in the electricity supply still affects 316 homes and the emergency telephone 112 has received a thousand calls related to the fire. As for the roads, at the moment only BV-1224 has been cut between Pont de Vilomara and Rocafort. The C-16 motorway, which is now open to traffic, was closed this Sunday near Manresa.