The forest fires affecting eastern Spain have already destroyed some 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) in the province of Valencia and continue to spread, given that ongoing changes in wind direction are making it difficult for authorities to control and extinguish them.

More than 2,000 people worked all night to try and put out the worst fires Spain has experienced since 1994, which have produced a huge cloud of smoke and ash that on Sunday morning covered a large part of Valencia.

The difficulty in controlling the blazes was confirmed on Sunday by the Military Emergency Unit, or UME, which said that - although 900 soldiers were sent to the zone to help with firefighting tasks - the situation is still problematic because "the wind changes direction constantly and the temperature is high."

"It's rather difficult to handle the situation," said an official from the UME, which has also dispatched fire engines and 250 other vehicles to the region, as well as three helicopters.

The UME has been deployed in the area since last Thursday, when a fire broke out in the town of Cortes de Pallas, and UME personnel are analyzing the "defense of sensitive points, like areas where there could be people and homes."

According to government sources, Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz is following the situation in Valencia, where the Civil Protection service has declared a Level 2 emergency, which activates national aid for the region to deal with the catastrophe, although the management of the alert and leadership in handling the situation continue to reside with the autonomous regional authorities.

The general director of the Civil Guard, Arsenio Fernandez de Mesa, met with the head of that institution in Valencia, Gen. Fernando Santafe Soler, and other top officials to evaluate the situation. More than 300 members of that security force are working to battle the fires in the area.

Officials with the State Meteorological Agency told Efe that the minimum temperatures will fall somewhat on Sunday night and that they are expecting a notable decline in maximum temperatures on Monday, while the east wind that is forecast to blow starting in the afternoon should help firefighters extinguish the blazes.

In fact, on Sunday morning a light rain fell in the northern part of the Castellon district and on zones affected by the Andilla fire, which broke out on Friday.

During the night, 1,100 people participated in efforts to put out the fire in the town of Cortes de Pallas (another focal point of the blazes), and 800 more were working in Andilla trying to establish a perimeter to prevent the fires from spreading and stabilize them.

Currently, about 20 municipalities have been affected by the fires and 14 highways have been cut due to heavy smoke.

The firefighting teams are also trying to prevent the Andilla fire from spreading into the Sierra Calderona nature park. EFE