THE widespread easing of restrictions on movement within Spain and Europe in general is being hailed by most as a return to normality – but hopefully not with regards to forest fires.
A yearly nightmare for the Valencia region, last year saw the lowest number of hectares of forest land destroyed by the flames since 1986 due to the travel ban enforced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
But the authorities are expecting an avalanche of visitors to the region’s green areas this summer, which has triggered all the alarms within the fire departments commanded by the Generalitat.
The regional government presented this year’s fire campaign yesterday (Tuesday June 29), entitled #StopAlFoc 2021 and consisting of more than 430 fire-fighters standing by at all times for extinction duties and another 740 professionals working on the ground to prevent the outbreak of blazes.
In addition to increased movement, experts warn that Valencia is also the Spanish region with the highest risk of fires due to natural causes such as lightning, added to the rainy spring season that has resulted in a fine layer of new undergrowth that could act as fuel for the flames.
The Safety and Emergency Response Agency has been allocated a budget of €89 million for the 2021 campaign, with the 112 telephone department reinforced with a 17% increase in personnel as of tomorrow (July 1).
Up to 56 squads of fire-fighters with 45 fire engines, nine helicopters and nine water deposit planes from the Generalitat will work in coordination with other units including provincial fire departments, emergency military forces, the Guardia Civil and Local Police forces.
Regional Agriculture, Rural Development, Climate Emergency and Ecological Transition councillor Mireia Molla urged residents and visitors to use ‘caution and common sense’ when visiting open spaces, while president Ximo Puig asked for future generations to be able to ‘at least enjoy the forests we have at present’.
Practices such as open-air barbecues, dumping broken glass and throwing smouldering cigarette ends out of car windows while passing through high-risk areas are particularly dangerous and punished with severe prison sentences for negligence.
If any suspicious behaviour, smoke or flames are spotted, witnesses are urged to call 112 immediately.