The recent outbreak of forest fires in southern Spain has reinforced the importance of fire prevention plans which enable the authorities to bring trained personnel and equipment into action at short notice.
In Murcia, Plan INFOMUR controls fire prevention and reaction forces, with 40 people on 24 hour watch, spread across 20 vigilance posts regionwide, 19 specialist forestry brigades, and 3 helicopters, in addition to the fire brigades and the forces of the environmental protection Ministry, all watching over the 486,000 hectares which comprises the Region of Murcia.
However, an essential part of their work is not just reaction to an incident, but prevention, an ongoing investment into creating fire breaks and managing vulnerable forested and protected areas.
The fire which devastated 500 hectares of land between La Manga Club and the Casas Baratas in Portmán last summer, affecting the regional park of Calblanque, Monte de las Cenizas y Peña del Águila, led to Manuel Campos, the head of the department of Presidencia in the regional government, drawing up a new forest fire prevention plan. Now, ten months later, the regional Spanish press are reporting that there is still no money for the plan to be implemented, and it will have wait until further budgets are available.
Between 2004 and 2008 a fire prevention program was in place, by which four firebreaks were established in the area. Each of these was between 1,200 and 2,500 metres long, and they covered a total area of 230 hectares, ensuring that any fires which broke out could not spread to the whole of the regional park.
This new plan involves an investment of 1.5 million euros, and would allow work to take place on a total area of approximately 1,000 hectares, of which 800 will be partially cleared of vegetation which includes protected species, such as Phoenician junipers, as well as pines and shrubs. The other 200 hectares will be completely cleared to form clear areas and belts which will act as firebreaks in the case of fire breaking out. Many of the areas to be cleared on the mountains coincide with paths which have become overgrown with shrubs in recent years.
The areas targeted in the plan are the regional park of Calblanque, Monte de las Cenizas y Peña del Águila, the protected area of the Sierra de la Muela and Cabo Tiñoso, and the Sierra de la Fausilla in the Escombreras valley.
The planned measures to avoid the outbreak of further fires aim to halt the progress of flames towards inhabited areas. In the case of the Calblanque park, Portmán is now in less danger, because the last fire left the area without any nearby trees, but the area around the La Manga Club complex is still a worry: for this reason one of the measures is the elimination of eight bands of vegetation around the edge of the complex, making it more difficult for any fire to reach the homes on it.
Another alarming aspect of last year’s fire was the chance that it could have spread to the Escombreras valley and its chemical installations, including the Repsol Refinery, after its progress towards Portmán was halted. For this reason the Sierra de la Fausilla is included in the preventive measures involving 50 hectares of forest.
More work is also required in the area further to the west, where the focus of the measures is the protection of inhabited areas including El Portús and Galifa, which are next to the densest forests in the Sierra de la Muela.
However, budgetary restrictions limit expenditure in all government departments, and although residents are concerned that no clearing and fire prevention work has been undertaken in these areas since the 2004-2008 plan was undertaken, all of the measures in Sr Campos’ new plan will continue to be on stand-by until there are enough funds to carry them out, maybe next year or in 2014, with an investment needed of 1.5 million euros.
This year, the Region of Murcia has spent 13,249.306 euros on fire prevention and firefighting.
Image: Fireforces overseeing the damping down of the La Manga -Portmán fire last year
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