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Editorials
These are the responsibility of the editor and convey the newspaper's view on current affairs-both domestic and international

Devastating forest fires

Fires are to be fought with adequate preventive and firefighting measures and public awareness

Five people, three in Catalonia and two in the Valencian region, have lost their lives this summer in forest fires in Spain. Since January the number of fatal victims due to this cause is nine.

In the same period, wildfires in Spain have burned an area three times as large as last year. The more than 130,000 hectares thus reduced to ashes are the largest figure in the last 10 years, and coincide with cutbacks made by regional governments in, among other things, fire prevention. From five large fires in 2011, the number has risen to 22 in this season. That of La Gomera, in the Canary Islands, required the temporary evacuation of 5,000 people, a quarter of the island’s population.

The combination of high temperatures, strong and shifting winds, and the dryness of the land due to drought, are the circumstances that have favored the burgeoning number of blazes; or rather, their spread, for in 95 percent of all cases the origin of forest fires involves human action (the others being caused by lightning). No plan for coping with the problem of wildfires can afford to neglect the human factor.

In this context we may point to the example of highway accidents — which in proportion to total traffic have been gradually declining for a decade — to underline the importance of addressing the human aspect. This requires specific campaigns of public awareness, combined with legislation providing for stiff dissuasive sanctions for the acts of imprudence and negligence that are commonly the causes of forest fires (cigarette butts, burning-off of stubble and trash, the lighting of barbecues and so on.)

But this does not mean forgetting the need for adequate means of fighting fires once they have started. Rather than indulging in interminable accusationary crossfires, each level (national, regional and municipal) of government laying the blame on the other, it would be better to consider a more rational, cost-effective distribution of the resident, fixed firefighting measures belonging to each region, and those dependent on the central administration.

The reasons given by the Environment Ministry to explain the delays in the arrival of the central government’s hydroplanes in the Canary Islands (they only fly by day, they are slow and their range is short) seem to call for a better distribution of these planes throughout Spanish territory. It is hard to see why the effective fighting of a forest fire in the Canary Islands, some 1,000 kilometers from the Spanish mainland, should be dependent on the arrival of a plane from the air base at Torrejón de Ardoz, on the eastern outskirts of Madrid.

And in reply to those who allege that the crisis is sufficient reason for a reduction of investment in fire-prevention work (for example, protection of the national parks), it must be pointed out that these protected natural areas have been worse affected than ever (La Gomera and Cabañeros, among others), and that fire prevention is far less costly than repairing the damage done by a fire.

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