By the end of the Atlanta Olympic Games, in the month of July, newspeople’s attention turned to other seasonal issues like forest fires. Their first question was: “Why are there no fires this year?”. Of course, there were some fires, but not catastrophic ones. That is, not noticeable.
In fact, most of them were clearing the woodlands of the big amounts of forest fuel accumulated in the last decades.
The first six months of 1996 had also been contributing to that accumulation. Unusual snow storms had broken thousands of pines all over the mountainous areas. A rainy spring with moderate temperatures increased the vegetative activity accumulating grasses and new sprouts in the brushlands. At the same time agricultural harvesting could be anticipated.
So, by the beginning of the dry season, fuel accumulations and agricultural burnings created a general alarm and mobilization of all suppression resources. Stubble burnings by farmers and brush burnings by shepherds were the origin of most fires. Only five burned more than 500 ha, all of them brushland, at the Western provinces, near the border of Portugal.
Dry weather in the West lasted until the end of August. During this time uncontrolled burnings created high risk. Nevertheless transfer of suppression resources from other regions kept the forest burned surface well below the preceding years’ figures.
In the Mediterranean regions winds were blowing mainly from the North or the East keeping the air moisture content high. Inland winds blew on few days and always after rainfall.
The following table shows that 1996 was both comfortable and comforting (Tab.1). The burned surface as percentage of the national woodland (0.18) is the lowest among the EU Mediterranean countries.
Tab.1. Forest fire statistics for Spain 1996
Number of Fires <1 ha
Number of Fires >1 ha
Number of large Fires (>500 ha)
Burned Surface (ha)
– Brushland and Grassland
Burned Surface as percentage of the National Woodland
Fire management activities of the different administrations were coordinated in the “Comité de Lucha contra Incendios Forestales” (CLIF).
Prevention activities were developed after the III Action Plan of Priorities (PAPIF 1996-99). A general sensitization campaign made use of all TV networks, with 1,176 spots.
The rural campaign visited 140 country villages with the participation of more than 200,000 people. Two theatre plays, written to show the human aspects and tragedies of forest fires, were performed by professional actors in main squares, bullrings, sport fields, churches, schools, according with the facilities available in each village.
The VII National Contest “Everybody Against the Fire” is being held in the schools of the whole country.
Other activities in the III Plan are:
Increasing mobile patrolling
Spreading preventive silviculture to private forests
New projects of preventive infrastructures
Stronger support to research projects in the fields of fire danger forecasting and prescribed burning combined with controlled grazing.
More than 20,000 people were involved in suppression activities, supported by the following air resources:
Amphibious aircraft (CL-215T, CL-215)
14 + 5
Agricultural aircraft (2500 l)
Helicopters for transportation of fire brigades (5 to 20 people, plus bucket of 1000-1500 l.)
Helibombers (1300 to 4500 l)
Observation aircraft (transmitting video images by TMA or microwaves to the Operation Centres).
The budget devoted by all administrations amounted to over 50,000 million PTA (approx. US $ 400 million).
From: Ricardo Vélez Chief, National Forest Fire Service Address: General Directorate for Nature Conservation Ministry of Environment Gran Vía San Francisco 4 E – 28005 Madrid