The year 1994 in Spain can be designated as Annus Horribilis because of its fire season severity. The 1994 fire weather was characterized by extreme conditions which developed after the end of the 1993 season:
Rainfall was well below the normal (50% of the average in most of the region, and 30% in many places of the Southeast);
Strong winds from inland (Poniente at Valencia, Tramontana at Cataluña, Terral at Andalusia);
Frequent lightning storms in the mountains of Aragon, Cataluña, Valencia;
Daytime temperatures of up to 46-47° C in the coastal regions and up to 30° C at 1500 m a.s.l., bringing the relative humidity down to 15%.
By the end of the month of June there were 48,000 ha burned with eleven fires larger than 500 ha. A week later, on 8 July, those figures had increased up to 200,000 ha burned and 30 fires larger than 500 ha. At the end of the fire season (30 September) 17,156 fires had affected a total of 405,082 ha, thereof 224,199 ha forest and 180,883 ha woodland and grazing land. Those figures of burned surface correspond to 1.43% of the forest and woodland area of Spain, a percentage well beyond of 0.4% in 1992 and the 0.3% in 1993.
The majority of fires (61%) burned less than 1 ha each. The major losses were due to only 67 fires (= 0.39% of the total number of fires) which burned 299,043 ha (= 73.9% of the total burned surface). Ten fires larger than 10,000 ha were the most outstanding: Villarluengo: 26,402 ha (Aragón-Valencia); Moratalla: 25,919 ha (Murcia); Requena-Buñol: 26,695 ha (Valencia); Millares: 23,574 ha (Valencia); San Martin de Boniches: 17,932 ha (Cuenca); Yeste: 11,580 ha (Albacete); Montmajor: 12,180 ha (Cataluña).
The year 1994 was also unique because of the number of casualties: 22 among the fire-fighters and 9 among country people. The wildfires spread into the fields, burning farms and vacation houses and making necessary the evacuation of thousands of people, a situation very seldom occurring in Spain.
The above-mentioned weather conditions were combined with the continuous increase of fine fuel accumulations in the forest and woodland because of the steady process of depopulation and land abandonment of the rural areas.
The Central and Regional Administrations had mobilized more than 20,000 firefighters (forest brigades and firemen) and 201 aircraft for water and retardant delivery and transport of fire crews. The performance of the modernized State-owned aerial fleet has been remarkable. The 13 amphibious aircraft (CL-215 Turboprop) flew 3,019 hours on fire missions, offering an availability of 90%, always at its maximum load capacity. Other fixed wing aircraft have been operated, the C-130, DC 6, Canso PBY, Firecat, Dromader, Air Tractor, Grumman Agcat, and helicopters of different capacities (Bell 205, 212, 412; Sokol, Kamov [5000 l], Mi 8, Mi 2). During the first week of July several Army Chinook helicopters were mobilized to carry personnel. The total number of flight hours by the ICONA (Central Administration) fleet was 11,918 (65% more than in 1993).
The intervention of big brigades (BRIF), specially trained, according to the programme started in 1992, has confirmed the efficiency of the use of well prepared personnel, trained to apply techniques of indirect attack which is required when extreme fire intensity with flame lengths of more than 20 m dwarf the efficiency of firetrucks and airtankers.
The use of video cameras, airborne or combined with IR on outlook towers, has confirmed their usefulness to support the coordination decisions. Also a tool for coordination is the software CARDIN of fire simulation. New versions of this software, which can run on commercial GIS (ARC/INFO, TERRASOFT) are now being used. Experiences to use NOAA images to calculate vegetation indexes and help fire danger forecasting are also advancing.
To conclude this summary the prevention campaigns must be mentioned. They are focusing more and more on public education by personal contacts in the villages (rural people), in the schools (children and young people). A play showing the consequences of forest fires has been performed in many villages in Southern Spain, creating new attitudes towards prevention among country people.
A new plan to promote fuel management and preventive silviculture is being prepared to deal with the earlier mentioned abandonment of the land.
From: Ricardo Vélez Chief, National Forest Fire Service Address: ICONA Gran Via San Francisco, n° 4 E – 28005 Madrid