The forest fire that is burning Sierra Bermeja again in Malaga, just nine months after 10,000 hectares burned last September, is once again highlighting the shortcomings of the Infoca Plan that its own workers denounce. Forest firefighters have been warning for years that the service is in a “precarious” situation, above all, in terms of the lack of stabilization of the workforce that allows them to have prepared and complete checkpoints. Added to this main problem on this occasion is that there is not enough personal protection equipment (PPE), that there is a lack of helicopters and that there are personnel working who have no experience because they have just been hired. Problems that have been denounced in “each of the Health and Safety Committees” that have been held, explain the representatives of the firefighters.
Sierra Bermeja: lessons from a journey through burned land
From the Ministry of Agriculture They explain that they have been making investments for three years, but that they cannot solve in this time what has been done wrong during previous governments. In fact, there has been an increase in the budget (from 167 million in 2018 to 175 in 2022); last year three new helicopters, 2,500 extinguishing backpacks and 73 portable meteorological units were added, and this year 2022 work spaces have been improved. However, forest firefighters believe that politicians are very “fans” of technical means but that what must be done is “avoid disaster”, not reach that point.
The lack of personnel and material resources are the two main complaints of some workers who are giving everything to control a fire that started in the middle of the afternoon this Wednesday and that has caused burns in three of the firefighters, one having to be hospitalized from them. In fact, the Junta de Andalucía has been forced to request the assistance of the Emergency Military Unit (UME), dependent on the central government, which has been deployed with 162 troops, once alert level 2 was declared.
3,000 INFOCA professionals
Chance has wanted the fire to coincide precisely with the demands of the unions that have been squeezing the Ministry of Agriculture for weeks to meet their demands once and for all before. The majority trade union section CGT even called a strike on June 1, coinciding precisely with the start of the high fire risk campaign in Andalusia, to put the spotlight on the situation these workers are going through. Since then, a hundred of them camp next to the headquarters of the Junta de Andalucía in San Telmo without anyone from the Andalusian Government having come to attend to them yet.
Although the CGT is the majority union that is moving these protests, the truth is that the feeling of discomfort is generalized in the sector table since the 5,500 workers of the Environment and Water Agency (Amaya), to which the 3,000 professionals of the Infoca Plan belong, are in the same situation. All unions, to a greater or lesser extent, have established a calendar of protests so that the Junta de Andalucía pays attention to them, because they share claims. Some complaints that have a clear origin: the collective agreement expired on December 31, 2020 and since then they have not had a valid document that protects them at work.
In this regard, the Ministry of Agriculture has been negotiating a new one for months, although progress has been limited so far. Sources from the sector table explain that the Board does not have the will to negotiate and rather to “impose”. What is generating problems with retirements, which are not being processed and force older workers to continue in second activity in an office, while seniority supplements have been conspicuous by their absence since 2006.
In this scenario, the association of forest firefighters Movimiento Infoca, has denounced the attitude of the Ministry during this time, whose consequences, they repeat, are being seen in the Sierra Bermeja fire. They affirm that the personnel is incomplete, that there are not enough PPE, that some of the firefighters are working without having passed the relevant medical examination, that some of them are rookies because they have just been hired, and that the helicopters are still missing in many of the CEDEFOS – closed enclosures located in forest areas as the workplace of the Infoca- and they are not expected to be available until June 20.
It so happens that the three firefighters who were fined 5,000 euros each in November for participating in a mobilization to demand improvements to the Infoca, have traveled to Sierra Bermeja to fight the flames. Something that some of those camped next to San Telmo have also done because, as they explain to elDiario.es Andalusia, the situation is “bad” and they want to be with their peers. These workers had asked for time off to be able to camp, but they are going to work against the fire anyway.
Because the main claim they have is that the Infoca needs contracted personnel throughout the year and the strategy of making temporary contracts only for the period of high fire risk must end. “The fire usually occurs in summer, but prevention must be done during the rest of the time and we have found ourselves limited,” says Javier Sánchez, forest firefighter and representative of the majority union CGT.
Worker sources remind this medium that “the fires start earlier and with more virulence.” As the mountains are “more abandoned” because there is a lack of personnel to take care of them, there is increasingly “more fuel in them” for catastrophes like Sierra Bermeja to occur. “We are increasingly diminished and less prepared.” They say that in winter there were only three firefighters per checkpoint to do preventive work, when the optimum would be at least four. “Then they come with audits that do not give up preventive measures, and it is normal. No one can fight this”, they sentence.