Tuesday, December 6

The alleged ‘plot’ to “burn” Castilla y León: only three of the 17 major fires have been intentional

The president of the Junta de Castilla y León, Alfonso Fernández Mañueco, will appear in parliament on October 4 to report on the forest fires registered this summer. One of the questions that may be asked during the session will be what happened to this supposed ‘plot’ to “burn” Castilla y León. The first data does not point in that direction: only three of the 17 large fires (those that exceed 500 hectares) have been intentional.

Feijóo recovers the thesis of the plot of arsonists that he could not prove in Galicia to dilute the responsibilities of the PP governments

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This summer three people have died and more than 95,000 hectares have been burned, devastated by fire. The most serious fires have been those of Losacio, the Sierra de la Culebra (Zamora) and the Sierra de Francia (Salamanca). Thirteen of these fires have exceeded one thousand hectares.

To get an idea, a thousand hectares would be equivalent to 1,428 football fields. These three fires alone, caused by lightning, have destroyed 64,800 hectares. Or, what is the same, they exceed the entire surface of the city of Madrid.

“In Zamora, more than 60,000 hectares have been burned. There has been a qualitative change. This year’s scenario will no longer be the exception. The era of mega-fires has begun”, considers Martín Pinto. This summer 6% of the entire area of ​​Zamora and 18% of its trees have been burned.

This summer’s fires have destroyed more forest area than in the last four years combined. The only data available at the moment are the daily reports, which do not include the perimeter of many outbreaks and fires. For example, the fire in Miranda del Castañar (Salamanca), which reached level 1, does not appear perimeter.

During the fire in Quintanilla del Coco (Burgos), Mañueco accused no one in particular of “trying to burn” the Community. He continued with the argument marked by the president of the PP, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, who this summer recovered the thesis of the plot of arsonists that he could not prove in Galicia.

As reported to this newspaper by the Court of First Instance and Instruction of Lerma, the detainee for the fire in Quintanilla del Coco (Burgos) is provisionally released, investigated for a forest fire crime due to recklessness. The case continues the instruction phase pending the practice of proceedings.

However, the reality is more complex: intentional fires, which have occurred, have had less impact than those caused by lightning. According to provisional data —more than 300 fires were under investigation when they stopped being published—, 157 fires were intentional, of which most did not exceed one hectare, so they are considered near misses.

In relation to some simultaneous fires in Zamora, Mañueco assured that he knew “what was behind” this type of deliberate fire, although he did not want to specify what he meant by “behind”. In any case, that supposed plot that wanted to “burn Castilla y León” has never been spoken of again. In fact, only three of the 17 major fires have been caused: Losacino (1,586 hectares), Figueruela de Abajo (1,176) and Roelos de Sayago (781), all in Zamora.

The lightning, however, has burned more than 73,000 hectares, almost half in wooded areas. Despite the constant campaigns about smoking in natural spaces, especially in summer, fires have still been registered with this cause: there have been 19 fires caused by smokers, among which the one in Cebreros, in Ávila, stands out above all of them: 4,263 were burned hectares.

Thousands of hectares in protected spaces

Taking these data into account, there are some 19,600 hectares of protected areas that have been affected by the fires, most of them in Protected Natural Parks such as the Sierra de Francia, the Sabinares del Arlanza, the Médulas, the Arribes del Duero or the banks of Castronuño. .

Thousands of hectares of Special Protection Areas for Birds (ZEPA) have also been burned, such as the pine forests of Bajo Alberche or the Valle del Tiétar, in Ávila. Part of the Sierra de la Culebra, one of the Special Conservation Areas (ZEC), was also affected.

“The fire campaign has been horrible. The weather has been very critical and the vegetation was wild”. This is how Pablo Martín Pinto, professor of Forest Fires at the Palencia Agrarian Engineering High School, summarizes it, continuing to unravel some of the causes of these sixth-generation fires. “We have had a terrible drought, the temperature peaks have been very high and have lasted for many days, with very high minimum temperatures. The wind was burning and the humidity was very low. All the fuel was ready to burn”, he insists.

More forestry work is needed

From the College of Forestry Engineers they appeal to invest more in forest fire prevention. “The risk of large fires is going to be increasing due to the effects of climate change. That is why it is necessary to increase the technical work of forestry management”, underlines the dean president of the College, Asier Saiz Rojo. However, he recognizes that some fires reach such a magnitude that they are impossible to control. “Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many means there are at that time, that’s why you have to control what is manageable: that there is not so much load of vegetable fuel.”

Faced with this situation, unions, employers and the Junta de Castilla y León have agreed this week to extend the duration of fire prevention contracts. They will go from an average of 7.6 months a year to a range of 9 to 12 months. The budget is expected to double in the next three years to try to stop the rapid spread of fires. However, the changes of public workers are pending the approval of the collective agreement of the staff of the Autonomous Administration and that of Job Relations (RTP).

It is also true that many of the megafires that have occurred this year have not been caused by human beings, but by dry storms such as those in Zamora. But there are more factors, in addition to luck and climate change: the use of the mountain, for example. At a time when the towns have less and less use, fewer extensive cattle ranches and less forest exploitation, the weeds accumulate and become highly flammable fuel.

The importance of exploiting resources

The little use of the natural environment is already a structural issue. “As the use is what it is, these fires are no longer an exception, like the ones we have seen in California or Australia in other years,” says Martín Pinto. The great exception to the wave of forest fires has been Soria. 40% of the province is covered by forest, but only 79 hectares have been burned throughout the summer. “In Soria the mountains are used because they give economic returns,” explains Saiz Rojo. Biomass or paper are just two of the most powerful examples that Soria has. In 2018, Soria had 1,552 workers in the sector, 15% of all forestry employment in Castilla y León.

Last year, the most important fire in the history of Castilla y León was recorded: the Navalacruz fire devastated 22,000 hectares, but most were scrubland, as the Minister for the Environment, Juan Carlos Suárez-Quiñones, insisted on recalling. This summer, two fires have exceeded the extension of the one in Navalacruz: the one in Losacio and the one in the Sierra de la Culebra.

Also noteworthy is the Boisán fire, in the municipality of Lucillo. This occurred at the Teleno shooting range, an artillery maneuvering range owned by the Army. Although it was caused by lightning, there are hundreds of artillery devices and howitzers —the result of firing tests— that are on the ground. Teleno is a black point of a province. In 1998, negligence caused a fire that burned 4,200 hectares.

The following graph shows the forest and wooded area that has been affected as a result of the fires in Castilla y León since 2010. The forest area includes trees, but also scrub and scrubland. For this reason, ‘only’ 76,000 hectares appear, because this year another 13,214 agricultural hectares and 4,194 other hectares have been burned (most of them from the Teleno shooting range).

The combustible mass is a very important factor in predicting the intensity of the fire: it influences the speed of spread, the height of the flames and the heat. That puts the fire in or out of extinguishing capacity. “Some fires have jumped onto the road and in ten seconds they were on the other side. The ashes (the sparks) can travel kilometers and spread the fire, and with all the dehydrated vegetation…”, reflects the professor of Forest Fires.

The Government compiles statistics on forest fires every ten years. On average, between 2006 and 2015, 4,197 hectares of wooded area were burned. This summer the figure has multiplied by ten to almost 45,000 hectares of wooded space, with greater or lesser density.