Tuesday, 16 July 2013

More than half of forest fires are arson, says WWF

Battling the flames
SPAIN In a recent report the Spanish branch of WWF says that 55% of the forest fires from 2001 to 2010 were intentional, but only 1.5% of the arsonists were identified. That 1.5% increases to 9% if the human factor is taken into account, with intentionality or otherwise. The environmental organization wants the Criminal Code applied to its full extent, in the belief that this would have a dissuasive effect, according to the head of WWF Spain, Juan Carlos del Olmo. The report, sponsored by the AXA Foundation and titled Forests: vulnerable to large fires, says that part of the problem is bad forestry management and lack of prevention, not the forests themselves. Del Olmo pointed out that 87% of the forest area in the country have no management planning at all.>>>Despite the fact that improvements in fire fighting efficiency have meant that the annual average number of fires, and therefore the surface area, has decreased, there are still some 16,500 fires outbreaks each year, the vast majority in the summer.

In 2012, 0.2% of the large fires (defined as of 500 hectares or more) burned 64% of the total forst surface area. Even this apparently small 0.2% burns an annual average of 41% of the forest area.

Alarming figures
An average of 1,435 hectares burned during the period between 1993 and 2002, up by 45%. Even more alarming is an 83% increase in the acreage between 2002 and 2011. (Note: this last period coincides with the increase in development and a decrease of available land, which bubble burst completely in 2011. This is not in the report, but sources at WWF and other environmental groups agree that much of the arson was probably 'sponsored' by developers, though as yet unproven.)

Financial cutbacks since then, says the report, are down to 76% of the money set aside to prevent forest fires during 2008/2009, to a mere €9 million. Fire fighting investment has remained approximately constant, however.

In 2001 to 2012 the regions most prone to forest fires, and accounting proportionately for that 43% mentioned above, are the Canaries (95,6%), Catalonia (86,4), Community of Valencia (84,1 %) and Aragón (73,4 %).  Castilla-La Mancha, Andalucía and Extremadura also account for large numbers of large fires, well above the national average.

The local viewpoint
The Campo de Gibraltar contains a large part of one of Europe's largest cork oak forests, Los Alcornocales Nature Park. And there's the Parque del Estrecho just West of Tarifa. Outside the parks themselves and inland from the coast are large stretches of forest and scrubland. All of them are often targetted.

Los Alcornocales, accounting for much of the agricultural economies of local municipalities, has thankfully been spared large fires for a good few years now (touch wood, quick!).

This is is in large part due to the Junta de Andalucía's Infoca fire prevention organization. Members of this elite group are often seen heading out to the middle of the forests of the region, where a network of fire spotting places make sure they can keep a keen eye on anything looking suspicious. However, the Junta de Andalucía announced heavy cutbacks to the Infoca service earlier this year, which will probably be felt in the summer months that have just started.

Is it arson or just carelessness?
While the WWF report says many of the fires are intentional and, rightly, that the arsonists should be caught and prosecuted much more efficiently than at present, there is also mention of 'human intervention'.

The term means neglect of the worst kind. A cigarette stub thrown from a car window; a bottle left at a picnic site; barbecue coals improperly put out, though BBQs are strictly forbidden out side in the dry summer months; all of them, and many more, are 'human intervention'. In other words, the uncaring idiots (our words, not the WWF's) who allow these things to happen, should also be caught and prosecuted - this IS part of the report.

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