Half of this year’s wildfires in July

Majority of blazes started on purpose Environmentalists warn more fires could be on the way

Lola Hierro

On July 15, a 30-year-old woman was surprised by Madrid police officers who grabbed her just as she was about to light a fire to burn a ranch for motives that remain unclear. Fifteen days later a Civil Guard officer, Enrique E. L., was arrested after he was charged with starting some 19 wildfires in Madrid's southwestern mountain range.

These incidents, officials say, add to the high number of forest fires that were reported last month. Of the 4,414 blazes that have broken out so far this year, half of them took place in the month of July.

Adding to these statistics, authorities say that 96 percent of the wildfires throughout Spain were man-made. And of that percentage, 55 percent were started on purpose.

Wildfires are also up this year, according to the Agriculture, Food and Environmental Ministry. During the 10-year-period from 2002 to 2010, an estimated 7,950 blazes broke out across Spain; more than half that number have been reported so far during the first six months of this year.

According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), heavy rains that fell on Spain earlier this year may have worked in favor of — and not against — the rash of fires. "There is much more vegetation to burn," said Diana Colomina, WWF coordinator in Spain.

"If we put this together with the forecasts from the State Meteorological Agency, which predicts a dry and hot summer, then the conditions are ripe for a lot of fires to break out," Colomina said.

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