On Friday, September 10, two days before the Junta de Andalucía formally requested the intervention of the Military Emergency Unit (UME) to support the Infoca’s extinction work in the Sierra Bermeja fire, a detachment with a score of soldiers He left the Morón base, in Seville, towards the area affected by the fire in the province of Malaga, which would leave 10,000 hectares of burned mountains, 3,000 residents evacuated from their homes and a dead firefighter.
Sierra Bermeja: Lessons from a Burnt Earth Tour
That same afternoon, the Minister of the Presidency of the Andalusian Government, Elías Bendodo, had called the Delegate of the Government in Andalusia, Pedro Fernández, to inform him that the UME was in “pre-alert”, “prepared to mobilize as soon as possible”. The soldiers of the UME, a body that belongs to the Ministry of Defense, are integrated into the Andalusian emergency system. The formal request to intervene in a fire was the responsibility of the Infoca command director who managed the extinction work in Sierra Bermeja, and that Friday the UME was not activated, despite the “notice” call. However, that same Friday the aforementioned UME platoon traveled to the Legion barracks in Montejaque, Ronda, a location closer to the place of the fire where they awaited the order to intervene.
From the Unified Association of Spanish Military (AUME), citing sources from the Legion headquarters in Ronda, they have confirmed to this newspaper that a detachment of the UME arrived on Friday, September 10 and made a reconnaissance of the facilities where they would spend the night once the Infoca formally activated the call for reinforcement in Sierra Bermeja. The Andalusian PSOE denounces a negligence on the part of the Junta de Andalucía, by delaying the intervention of the UME by 36 hours, from the “pre-alert” call on Friday, until the official activation on Sunday.
Displaced to La Palma
The UME press service explained this Thursday to eldiario.es that the troops who acted in the Malaga fire are now displaced in the erupting volcano of La Palma and, consequently, it has not been able to obtain answers to some questions that remain in the air: Did someone give the order to move to the fire site on Friday, before the Board activated the UME? Did they receive a “counter-order” to return that forced them to spend the night in the Ronda barracks, as the PSOE denounces? Did the detachment mobilize of its own accord upon learning of the pre-alert? Is there an intervention protocol in the UME that justifies a preventive movement, a reconnaissance work close to the place of the fire?
The socialist spokesman in the Presidency Commission in Parliament, Mario Jiménez, denounces that in that interval of almost 36 hours, between the “notice” of the Board, on Friday, and the formal activation of the UME, on Sunday, they were lost. 6,000 hectares, of the 10,000 that the Sierra Bermeja fire destroyed. Jiménez accuses Bendodo of having given a “counter order” that stopped the UME battalion in the Ronda barracks, after having moved towards the fire.
The counselor has reminded him that the power to activate the UME is not his or that of the Minister of the Environment, but of the command director of Infoca. “That does not take away”, he added, “that within the institutional loyalty, this counselor called the Government Delegate in Andalusia on Friday to inform him that the pre-alert had just been produced, and later the alert.” Bendodo denies that the UME received any “counterorder”, and defends that “the usual protocol for a pre-alert was followed, the same procedure that the PSOE used when it governed.”
Sources close to the Government Delegate in Andalusia confirm the counselor’s telephone call “to report the situation and the activation of level 2, which implies the request for media from other communities and the State and, also, to communicate an activation notice. of the UME “. Faced with this call, the Government Delegation warns the UME “of the imminent possibility that the Junta de Andalucía request its intervention”. “This is done so that the military device is prepared to leave its base in the shortest time possible from the request of the Board, which is the one with operational command in extinguishing the fire,” explain these sources, who consider that “It is part of the normality of their performance to mobilize recognition devices, as happened, since they expected to be requested that same day”
“It was not considered necessary”
From the Presidency they explain that if the Infoca did not activate the UME that Friday, but 36 hours later, it was “because then it was not considered necessary”, and they recall that on Saturday, as a result of a pavesa – remnants of burned wood that move the wind – Other sources of fire were activated that forced the evacuation of more municipalities. “It was then, on Sunday morning, that formal help from the UME was required. The Infoca command director who coordinated the extinction work in Sierra Bermeja, Juan Sánchez explained that the magnitude of the “sixth generation” fire made it impossible to control the flames even if the human and material troops had multiplied.
The Sierra Bermeja fire originated in the early morning of Wednesday, September 8, affected a part of the forest of high ecological value and a dozen municipalities, many of whose neighbors were evicted from their homes. The difficult orography of the terrain and the constant changes in the wind made the extinction work difficult, in which an Infoca firefighter died. The fire was considered controlled on Tuesday, September 14, when alert level 2 was deactivated.