Spain: Forest Fires in 1999  (IFFN No. 22 – April 2000)

Forest Fires in 1999

(IFFN No. 22 – April 2000, p. 66-68)

Fire Effects

Every time we establish the balance of a fire season we remember the terrible year 1994, when 435,000 ha (250,000 ha forested) were blackened by wildfires. On the contrary the year 1999 was again a less than the average season (Tab.1). In fact the burned surface was reduced to 50% of 1998 burned surface.

The number of fires was also less than the average, but 63.5% were registered in the Northwest – as usual.

Most of the brushland and grassland burned areas were registered also at the Northwest (64%), although the forested area burned was approximately one third in every of the three main regions (Northwest 37.3%; Mediterranean 32.9%; Continental 29.3%). In the Canary Islands only 177 ha were burned.

This distribution is related to the main fire causes, which at the Northwest are traditional rural burnings in most cases.

A new preventive initiative has started in the Northwest: Three Integral Prevention Crews (IPC) (EPRIF in Spanish) have been created to operate in three provinces with the highest number of rural fires. They will work between November 1999 and April 2000. Their missions will be:

  • investigation of fire causes
  • sensitization of the rural population
  • organization of prescribed burnings

Their task includes training of the local foresters in those techniques. These IPC will be supported also by the winter Campaign of Rural Sensitization which is performing a theatre play in the small villages, showing to the local people the negative consequences of forest fires for them.

Among those negative consequences the victims by fire are mentioned. In 1999 four forest firefighters were surrounded and killed by fire in Huelva on 30 June. Another firefighter was burned in Cuenca on 26 August 1999. The pilot of a Dromader airtanker crashed in Navarra on 26 July 1999.

Fire Management

Available resources in 1999 have been rather similar to those in 1998 (see IFFN issues of January 1998 and March 1999).

New improvements were the following:

  • Current use of NOAA images to calculate a Danger Index (Greenness Index) developed by the University of Valladolid. This Index gives not only an appraisal of the photosinthetic activity (humidity inside the vegetation) but also an estimation of the biomass accumulation, prone to burn after drought.

  • Current use of an infrared airborne camera at the same time as video cameras to detect hot points in the fire perimeter.

  • General use of the specific investigation techniques of fire causes by forestry and police agencies, reducing the number of unknown causes to 15%.

  • Installation of INMARSAT receivers in 10 of our Canadair CL-215 T. They are also in operation in our 5 CL-215 and will be installed during 2000 in the remaining 5 CL-215T. This is a very useful tool to manage the state fleet of amphibious aircrafts, sending and receiving messages in every place of the country.

All the other aircrafts (fixed wing and helicopters) classified like “Resources for National Coverage” (MCN in Spanish) are equipped with satellite remote control to know their position in every moment at the National Operations Centre.

International Cooperation

Two International Courses were given:

  • Advanced Course on Forest Fire Protection, for Latin American experts (Valsaín, September 1999), funded by the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and the Ministry of Environment

  • International Course on Forest Fire Protection for Mediterranean experts (Zaragoza, October 1999), organized by the CIHEAM.


In 1999 the Severity Index of Spain (burned surface as a percentage of the national woodland area) was again the lowest (0.3%) among the European Union Mediteranean countries.


Ricardo Vélez
Chief, National Forest Fire Service
General Directorate for Nature Conservation
Ministry of Environment
Gran Vía San Francisco 4
E-28005 Madrid

Fax: ++34-91-


Tab.1. Wildland fire statistcs of Spain: Comparison of the 1999 fire season with the average statistical data for the period 1994-98.


AVERAGE 1994-98


Number of Fires (<1 ha) 12,769 11,866 Number of Fires (>1 ha) 7,775 5,613

Number of Large Fires (>500 ha)



Burned Surfaces (ha)

  • Forested

72,827 21,804

  • Brushland and grassland

97,230 45,597

  • Total



Burned surface as percentage of the national woodland area




Tab.2. Large fires (>500 ha) in Spain during the 1999 fire season



Surface Burned


San Justo (Zamora)

656 17/3 Molezuelas (Zamora) 500 21/3 Lubián (Zamora) 2,500 29/6 Tábara (Zamora) 657 10/7 Ibias (Asturias) 452 11/7 Argamasilla (Ciudad Real) 800 15/7 Lerada (Salamanca) 755 17/7 Verín (Orense) 687 30/7 Descargarmaría (Cáceres) 823 5/8 Turre (Almería) 967 15/8 Enguera (Valencia) 3,197 17/8 Otivar (Granada) 2,148 28/8 El Escorial (Madrid) 450 26/8 Peñera (Salamanca) 680 1/9 Mombeltrán (Avila) 348 2/9 Alfoz de Bricia (Burgos) 985


Artá (Baleares)


Country Notes
IFFN No. 22

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