Authorities in Asturias exclude organised gangs behind forest fires

by Lorraine Williamson
Asturias forest fires

OVIEDO – When 135 forest fires raged simultaneously in the Principality of Asturias in northwestern Spain, the regional government pointed to “fire terrorists” as the cause. Moreover, 99% of these fires are said to have been lit. 

However, now, a few days later and with most of the fires extinguished or under control, authorities are weakening this claim. At the same time, the opposition party Partido Popular questioned the veracity of claims that the fires were the result of “organised” terror. The PP instead refers to the policies of the socialist government in the region on fire prevention and management of mountains and forests. 

Waiting for ongoing investigation 

The presidential candidate for the PP, Diego Canga, even called on President Barbón to “be more cautious” and to wait for the ongoing investigation “before blaming arsonists quickly”. Consequently, the chief public prosecutor of the community has launched an investigation procedure. We are now waiting for the first information from the forestry brigades (BRIPAS) and the Guardia Civil to send the first files. In addition, the Asturian government must provide its prevention and management plans for keeping the mountains clean. 

Prison sentences from 10 to 20 years 

Asturias Chief Prosecutor María Esther Fernández said: “We do not suspect anything at the moment. Everything must be studied, the matter is very serious. The fires this time surrounded many inhabited areas. In the case of intent, we are talking about serious crimes with very severe sentences of 10 to 20 years in prison for endangering human life. Futhermore 11,000 hectares burned and over 400 people had to be evacuated. 

President Barbón has been pointing out for days that “there is a suspect” and regional minister Calvo spoke of the existence of “indications that indicate a certain degree of organisation.” The spate of fires, he said, was clearly planned to cause as much damage as possible. 

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The reaction of President Adrián Barbón in this critical episode, according to several Spanish media, including La Nueva España, strongly resembles that of Alberto Núñez Feijóo, president of the Xunta. He blamed “terrorists” for the wave of fires that broke out in Galicia in the autumn of 2017. That interpretation was supported by the then Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy (PP). Rajoy insisted that such a thing “doesn’t happen by chance. This is provoked.” 

Catastrophic area 

The community will now have to start rebuilding. The central government has already been requested to declare the area a catastrophic zone. The authorities want to guarantee the reforestation of all these forests and prioritise aid to the affected municipalities. In addition – and not unimportantly – the regional government “will not allow any change of use in the areas affected by the flames in order to exclude speculative activities”. 

The Minister took the opportunity to thank all the security forces, firefighters and members of the civil defence who worked with all their might to extinguish the fires and protect the civilian population in the affected areas. 

Control of the burnt land 

Meanwhile, the work of surveillance and control of the burnt land continued on Sunday in Almoño (Allande), Cutiellos (Belmonte), where there was still smoke as in Villanueva de Rañadoiro (Tineo). The mountains of Foyedo, Lavadoira and Solanos (Tineo) were also checked, as well as the areas of Cadavedo and Querúas, La Herrería de Abajo and Merás (Valdés) and Bustefollado in the municipality of Villayon. 

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