Forest wildfires in Spain

by Lorraine Williamson
wildfires in Spain

Wildfires in Spain are sadly too frequent, especially at this time of the year. As the weather gets hotter, we start to see motorway signs about fire hazards and high risk of fire.

Large wildfires account for the bulk of burned areas throughout Spain. These fires can be caused by climate and weather conditions and sometimes by humans – either by accident or otherwise.

Weather conditions

Climatic conditions over a period determine the amount of fuel that is available to feed these fires. Therefore, weather conditions in the days or weeks prior to the onset of a fire change the fuel moisture state of especially the fine fuel and litter. Hence their flammability. Whereas on a shorter time scale, hourly and daily meteorological variables control fire ignition and propagation.

Types of large wildfires

A distinction can be made between five types of outdoor fires:

  • Heat – these are driven by temperature and dryness of the land. They are associated with calm winds and sustained hot and dry conditions.
  • Heat wave – wildfires are also driven by temperature and dryness and are associated with calm winds. However, different to the ‘heat-driven’ type, extremely high temperatures are driving these fires.
  • Seasonal drought – fires are associated with long periods of drought, which in turn, lead to dry heavy fuels. For this type of wildfire, the spread of the fire is not inhibited by the presence of moist fine fuels. It is the lack of moisture in the ground because of prolonged drought periods, and the wind that drive these fires.
  • Wind-driven – wildfires occur on days with sudden warm conditions and strong winds. These are especially common with a sudden drop in humidity and strong winds during the day of ignition.
  • Human cause – wildfires can be caused by humans due to negligence, ignorance or on purpose.

Heat-driven wildfires seem to be the most common in Spain, with heatwave causes coming second.

Fire services in Spain

The Fire Brigade (bomberos) in Spain are fantastic and are operated locally. Therefore, each of the autonomous communities oversee their own fire service. Should you need to report a fire, contact the emergency services on 112. It is a good idea to save this number to your phone.

When there is a fire, the helicopters and seaplanes control the situation as mostly they are difficult to approach otherwise. They carry buckets to collect water and extinguish the fire. They are also used to spot and identify fires monitoring the spread.

Some areas also have local Facebook groups or apps that you can follow to keep up to date with the progress of the fire and details of when extinguished. There are also apps that can be downloaded to either let trusted contacts be aware of your location, or to let them know that you are safe.

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Prevention

Certain areas are prone to wildfires. As such there are various methods that can be put in place to help prevent or at least potentially slow down the pace of the fire. This is called a firebreak and is a gap in vegetation or other combustible material. A firebreak may occur naturally where there is a lack of vegetation or fuel, such as a river, or a road. However, if there is even a small wind, the fires can be seen to almost leap over a road in search of more fuel to continue its path.

Be prepared

If you live in an area where there is a risk of forest fires, then it is good practise to be organised in the event you might have to evacuate your home. Prepare a “go to” box and keep in a safe area, but near your main exit. Certain identification items should always be carried, but there are other items that you may need. These include insurance documents, medical information, birth certificates, special photographs, items of sentimental value that cannot be replaced. Other items that may be useful are mobile phone charger, basic first aid kit and a torch. The box should be easy to carry, to access and go without wasting time.

What to do in the event of a fire in your area

Check in on any elderly or infirm people. They may not have the means or the ability to leave. They may also be unaware of the potential problem if they are not on social media. Stay vigilant and leave if requested by the authorities. There is an app that automatically informs your friends and loved ones that you are safe. This is especially helpful if they have seen or heard of a fire in your area through the media but cannot get through to check if you are OK.

Animals

Ensure you have means to transport your animals such as cat boxes and cages etc. If you have or own horses, livestock, or animal shelters – ask early for volunteers to help get the animals to safety. Equally, if you know of any in the area – offer your help to house an animal or drive them to safety if you can. Animals can sense the danger and may be very frightened and stressed. However, do not put your life or the lives or others in danger to rescue an animal. Often the best approach is to set the animal free. It will usually find the best route to safety on its own.

Understand the risk

Fires are often started by humans. A discarded cigarette from a vehicle can often be the start of a fire. You can also be fined if caught doing this. There are also various regulations and expections that may vary among regions. Please therefore check with your local ayuntamiento. These include;

  • The burning of rubbish is only permitted on certain day(s) per week during the summer months.
  • BBQs are not allowed if your property is within a certain distance of forest areas.
  • Keep your garden or spare ground clean and tidy. Litter, broken glass, dry ground, and leaves are a bad combination.

Sadly, each year, several fires are set intentionally and can easily get out of control. Understandably, this is treated as a serious offense in Spain.

A fire can start in seconds and spread just as quickly if conditions allow. At this time of year wildfires are a frequent occurrence.

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