Saturday, 23 July 2011

Who are these guardians of the mountain?

CAMPO DE GIBRALTAR There have already been several brush fires in the hills and mountains around us. They have all been put under control and extinguished. We have seen the pictures and may have even witnessed the horror of a fire close by. Summer, especially from now on, at its driest, is the highest risk time for fires, most of which begin in the mountain forests, largely in the Los Alcornocales Nature Park. But what kind of people, and preparations, are trying right now -and during the whole year- to make sure that 2011 is even better than 2010 in terms of the number of fires. Last year was the very best of the last 30 years. In the province of Cadiz, the Plan de Prevención y Extinción de Incendios de Andalucía (known as INFOCA) has over 100 people out there in the hills watching every corner for signs of flames or smoke.>>>

the Los Alcornocales and Estrecho parks alone add up to 170,000 hectares, and 222,000 hectares are catalogued as under special protection in the province, all of six Nature Parks, while 350,000Ha come under 'forestry and nature'. These figures, of course, do not include any kind of urban condition (except farms and homes in these mountains) that might be threatened at any time. That's a lot of watchfulness.

The Infoca budget this year is €18.3 million for the whole province of Cadiz, a large part of which is spent in the Campo de Gibraltar. €7.4 million is spent on extinction, while €10.9 million (that's 60%) goes to prevention. The proportions offer an idea of the importance of prevention.

Prevention is the foundation of good forestry fire management
The two lower risk periods of the year (low and medium, from October 16 to May 31) are used to carry out such essential tasks as pruning back, clearing the underbrush and maintaining an extensive network of trails and roads that allow access to all areas. Important to maintain, too, are the firewalls that are created to prevent fire spreading. These alone take up 1,594 Hz of the total surface.

Before the heat began this summer, €2.6 million had already been spent on prevention in the Campo, plus another million euros on the road and firewall network.

But prevention needs the cooperation of other entities, which is why the Junta has agreements with the likes of
Sevillana-Endesa, Adif (rail network) and Red Eléctrica (the railway electricity company), whereby these are available at all times to not only cut off the power supply in certain areas as needed -absolutely vital in a brush fire situation- but also to maintain their networks of pylons and cables, and railways, especially the brush beneath the cables or by the rails as they criss-cross the countryside.

It's worth remembering that during the high fire risk period (June 1 to October 15) it is absolutely forbidden to light any kind of fire in the countryside. This is so throughout the country, but it is particularly important in places such as the Campo de Gibraltar, where the winds are strong and likely to change without warning - and are thus an extremely difficult element in terms of the very rapid propagation of flames.

To provoke a forest fire is a crime, set out in Spain's Penal Code, that carries prison terms. The Forest Fire Investigation Units (BIIF) investigate 100% of all forest fires. They come onto the scene only minutes after the fire has been spotted, their mission being to find both the cause and the motivation of a fire. Negligence is also a crime. Criminal procedures are begun by a special Environmental Prosecutor.

Another factor incorporated this year is a new Emergency Plan, started in September 2010 and aimed at improving cooperation among various entities in an emergency, particularly as it applies to the civilian population. In this, the province of Cádiz has always been a pioneer.

The new Emergency Plan Law establishes areas of danger, prone to rapid fire propagation. In the province of Cádiz, this includes 27 municipalities that are considered to be at risk if and when a fire spreads out of control, even for a short period. Six of these municipalities are in the Campo de Gibraltar - that is, all the Campo's except La Línea. Each one of them is required to maintain special vigilance on the use of fire and to have their own Emergency Plan (Planes Locales de Emergencia por Incendios Forestales, or PLEIF).

Living in the mountains
It is also important that urbanizations, or even individual homes, in the forest, have their own emergency plans. These would include perimeter firewalls and ease of access, for instance, and individual evacuation plans that could benefit from rehearsals - you just never know when it can happen, but it can.

Fires breaking out in mixed urban-forest areas present a series of additional problems because the civil population needs protection, as well as the environment. Among the urbanizations in the Campo are El Cuartón, in the municipality of Tarifa, and El Faro and Las Herrizas in Algeciras.

Education is also an important part of Infoca's work. For example, some 800 school children have visited the Forestry Defence Centres (Centros de Defensa Forestal, or Cedefo) to learn about being responsible in the forest.

Responsibility: that is the word for the rest of us who enjoy the mountains and forests and nature parks in which we have chosen to live.

See also: What kind of environmental vigilance is this?

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