Wildfire hero 'fighting' in hospital, Spanish town counts costs

Arjona, who dug a trench to stop the fire and save people's homes in the Spanish town of Tabara, was seen abandoning his digger after it was engulfed in flames

Guillermo MartinezReuters
Published : 29 July 2022, 11:13 AM
Updated : 29 July 2022, 11:13 AM

In the Spanish town of Tabara, residents are counting the costs of a wildfire that spared the town but ravaged agricultural land, leaving one of their own seriously injured as he dug a trench to stop the flames and save people's homes.

Angel Martin Arjona, 50, the owner of a construction warehouse in Tabara, was seen abandoning his digger after it was engulfed in flames and escaping with his clothes alight on Jul 18.

Friends say he remains sedated in hospital with 80% burns but he was showing signs of improvement and his kidneys were once again working on their own.

Mechanic Juan Lozano, a childhood friend of Arjona, said the whole town felt desolate.

"Angel is better," he said. "The man is fighting. He's strong, he will recover but it is serious, very serious.

"The tragedy this man experienced hurts us all,"

he said.

The blaze, which started in Losacio, in the northwestern province of Zamora, on July 17 caused two deaths, left three people critically injured, including Arjona, and led to the temporary evacuation of 6,000 people from the area, authorities said.

With human-caused climate change triggering droughts, the number of extreme wildfires is expected to increase 30% within the next 28 years, according to a February 2022 UN report. As well as Spain, fires swept through parts of France, Portugal, Italy and elsewhere in Europe during days of extreme heat.

Gesturing to the tracks Arjona's digger carved into the blackened stubble of the fields, Lozano said it was still not clear how he became caught in the fire.

"The digger stopped here and we haven't been able to find out whether it got stuck or whether the fire and smoke in cabin didn't let him breathe," he said.

The trench he dug, though, served its purpose of sparing a group of homes and businesses, repair shops and a petrol station. "If it weren't for that ditch, possibly everything would be burnt," he said.

Farmers in particular struggle to rebuild their businesses after a fire, and are forced to take their livestock to pastures in other villages, he said.

So far this year 90,000 hectares (222,000 acres) have been burnt across Spain, including 20,000 hectares (49,500 acres) - an area slightly bigger than New York City - in the last heatwave that began on July 10.

2022 is considered Spain's worst year for wildfires in a decade, according to government figures.

"Those of us who know this route are used to seeing the Culebra Sierra mountains full of trees and life ... it's completely scorched, scorched beyond repair," said salesman Cipriano Pietro, 63, who was visiting Tabara.

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