Spain: Forest Fires in 1995 (IFFN No. 14 – January 1996)


Forest Fires in 1995

(IFFN No. 14 – January 1996, p. 35-36)

Two main facts made the year 1995 a relaxing time for us after the awful 1994 fire season. 

  • First: The burned surface decreased from the 1.4% of the national forest surface in 1994 to only 0.4% in 1995. Table 1 shows the figures up to the end of September in comparison with the previous five years.

  • Second: Forest fires (and the people concerned like us) were no news for the media. Only 13 fires burned over 500 ha, the largest being the Sierra Cardó Fire (Tarragona) with 4,638 ha, mostly brushland. Remaining out of the field of interest of the media was really comfortable.

 Weather in 1995 supported all predictions of high fire risk. The long-lasting drought went on over two thirds of the country, creating huge difficulties for agricultural crops, for the water supply in urban areas and for forest plantations. All planting activities were nearly discontinued because of the lack of water in the soil. Then most resources were transferred to preventive silviculture. However, in many places it was not possible to burn forest debris for reducing the fire hazard.

The lack of rainfall had a positive influence to decrease that hazard, because of reduced growth of new grass in the grazing lands. Thus, the shepherds were not interested in grass burning, and the livestock contributed to decrease the hazard by intense browsing of bushes and trees.

Although there was no rainfall, another source of humidity kept the fine dead fuels at a high moisture level. Winds were blowing mainly from the Mediterranean Sea (the opposite direction as compared to 1994). Consequently the Eastern regions suffered less lightning storms than in 1994, and the fuels were not ready to burn. These Eastern winds shifted the risk to the Western regions of the Iberian Peninsula. In Galicia (Northwest) 14,381 fires burned 41,799 ha in April and August. At the same time Portugal (also in the West of the Peninsula) registered 30,175 fires and 125,328 ha burned. During the April fire season three crew men got trapped by a sudden rekindling of a brush fire in the province of Leon, quite close to Galicia. This fire, like most in the Northwest, started like a brush clearing, gathering momentum in the large fuel accumulations that cover many abandoned rural areas.

The activities against forest fires in 1995 had one main objective, to improve coordination among the different administrations concerned. A Coordinating Committee was established with the Ministry of Agriculture and the 17 Autonomous Regions in order to jointly develop and coordinate fire policies and fire management resources. A plan for the whole country was approved by the Government establishing guidelines for the support with State resources for the suppression operations conducted by the Regions and for evacuations in the urban-forest interfaces. The Senate produced a first revision of its 1993 Report on Forest Fire Policies emphasizing coordination, training and prevention activities. A permanent course on Coordination for the Fire Directors was initiated. Another course on investigation of fire causes has been continued to train forest rangers and the police.

Three prevention campaigns started in June. A general purpose campaign by TV reached the whole population with dramatic pictures of the 1994 fires, showing at the same time the responsibilities of everyone. A campaign for rural people visited 100 villages performing a theatre play showing the tragic consequences of fires in the rural areas. More than 150,000 people watched the play in the main squares of their villages during the summer. Another fire prevention campaign in the schools is on the way, e.g. a National Contest, using table games, computer games, movies etc.

The main difficulties come from the earlier mentioned abandonment of rural areas, covered by huge fuel accumulations. In the next Action Plan (1996-1999) forest owners are demanding enough funding for preventive silviculture operations.

This year the State fleet of 13 Canadair CL-215 Turbo got again a level of availability of over 85% over the whole fire season. Two more aircraft are being transformed with the turboprop engines in a Spanish company. Five of the older CL-215 were given a major overhaul and worked together with the turbos. The CL-215 No. 1 which arrived in Spain in 1971 and is still in good condition for operation was given to the Museum of the Air (Madrid) because it is a historical piece of aeronautics and forest protection in Spain.

In 1995 we reached two anniversaries:

  • 40 years (1956-95) since the establishment of the Forest Fire Service in the Ministry of Agriculture, and

  • 25 years (1971-95) since the Forest Fire Service/Air Force Agreement for the CL-215 operation.

In this time we reached a main conclusion: forest fire is a permanent phenomenon. Strategies to control it have to consider the socio-economic constraints with the weather and vegetation conditions, integrating all silviculture techniques with other measures based on social sciences and advanced technology sciences and engineering.


Tab.1. Area burned (ha) by wildfire in Spain between 1 Januaryand 30 September 1995






Average 1990-94


Number of Fires <1 ha







Number of Fires >1 ha







Forested area burned







Brushland burned







Total area burned







No. of Fires >500 ha









From: Ricardo Vélez
Chief, National Forest Fire Service
ICONA, Department of Agriculture
Gran Via San Francisco, 4
E – 28005 MADRID

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