The fire in Ateca (Zaragoza) is “very serious and worrying”, as reported on Wednesday by the president of Aragon, Javier Lambán, after the first meeting of the day at the Operational Coordination Center. “All alerts are on and all operations are ready,” he added.
The fire, which began on the 18th, originated in a reforestation project of the Land Life company in Bubierca, while a person was carrying out forest restoration work. The same company has confirmed that it was a spark from the excavator that caused the fire and has indicated that it is “desolate”. “The reforestation work was being carried out in accordance with local regulations and following strict preventive measures to deal with the increased risk due to the extreme conditions of drought and heat,” they added. Land Life says on its website that its work is “to help restore the 2 billion hectares of degraded land in the world” and has projects in various places around the planet.
But it is not the first time that the company has been involved in an incident of this type. It already happened a month ago. On June 20, doing the same work, Land Life caused another fire in the area in which 20 hectares burned. On this occasion, the estimates are that there are some 14,000 hectares affected.
“We got out of there shot. We feel fear. It is impressive to see the fire spread so much”, says Carlos López, a member of Ecologists in Action and a resident of Moros, one of the towns that has had to be evacuated. Despite the destruction, he is grateful that his town has not burned down, “because it is a medieval town, all made of stone.”
Neglect of the mountains and depopulation
López attributes the fire to several causes. First, because “correct prevention work” has not been carried out. He believes that there is “a general neglect of the care of the mountains”, where grazing and care of crops have disappeared due, among other things, to the lack of subsidies and depopulation. “If there were grazing or half of the crop fields were not abandoned, so much land would not have been burned, but since there was stubble, the fire has spread throughout the term in a very short time.”
But he also points to Land Life and the person who hired his labors. “He is a man who is not named anywhere, who has hired this company to work on his land,” he explains. He laments the “error that a private company manages a mountain with public interests.” “Nobody in their right mind transplants trees in July, because the transplant season ends in March. And even less a company specialized in reforestation”, he criticizes. The company also “says that it has worked within the law, but has skipped the recommendation not to do any work that was not essential on these dates. And reforesting now is not necessary”.
Something similar is the opinion of Javier Gimeno, coordinator of Izquierda Unida in Zaragoza, who pointed out to the company on his Twitter account. In statements to elDiario.es, Gimeno compares this situation with the policies of the Zaragoza City Council in the Forest of the Zaragozans, “which is to plant trees and say that we are climate neutral, instead of reducing Co2 emissions”. “Under that logic, the companies are doing the business,” he says. “This company already had a scare for failing to comply with the recommendations, which in other communities are obligations, and even so it has continued with that practice,” he adds.
That is why he believes that “what these types of companies do is pure marketing”. “The idea of reforesting itself is fine. The problem is that it becomes a business where money comes first and the environment comes second, because if you do business with climate policies that really work, well, welcome, ”he explains.
An “environmental problem” and a “social problem”
José Luis Martínez, also a member of Ecologists in Action of Zaragoza and specialized in climate emergency, believes that “it is questionable in which areas it is reforested and with what species”. There are some, like eucalyptus, that “burn easily and very quickly”.
He believes that the recommendations are not enough and there should be prohibitions. “We have to take very serious measures that we environmentalists are bored of proposing.” He believes that fires and heat “have come to stay” and points out that this is both “an environmental problem and a social problem”. “In areas with fire risk there are certain times when it is not working hours, both because of the impact on the territory and because of the impact it has on the workers. People cannot be putting their lives at risk with these temperatures, firefighters are already risking enough, ”he says.
Now, his partner Carlos López, who is in Zaragoza waiting to return to his town, Moros, is worried about the future of his neighbors. “The problem now is that it is an uninhabited rural area that lives off fruit and, this year, it will probably no longer be possible to harvest apples, pears, peaches… Because, even if those crops have survived, the heat of the flames makes them go to hell. They are also people aged 50 or 55 and I suspect that the administration will promise aid that will arrive when they are already retired. Probably half of the economy of the town has been lost, ”he laments.
In Zaragoza, at the moment, they are waiting for the weather and the change in the wind, which will be essential to control the fire, although as reported this Thursday, its evolution is “favourable”. So far, some 1,700 people from five municipalities have been evicted, basically going to destinations they have chosen themselves, and some 270 people are housed in Calatayud. The President of the Government of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, has promised this Wednesday to “recover” the damage caused.
For now, Land Life has suspended all land preparation in high fire risk areas and ensures that “it will analyze and investigate what standards and forms of work can be applied.” “The safety of local communities and people working on nature restoration is the first priority,” added in the statement. This medium has tried to contact those responsible for Land Life in Spain by various means and at the time of publication of this article has not received a response.