Fires Ravage The Region

Fires Ravage The Region

7 September 2008

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Spain — Intense heat and humid conditions caused chaos for the region’s forest areas last week as forest fires ravaged the Costa Blanca.

Three blazes, thought to have been started deliberately, were all put out on Wednesday in the Marina Alta area, north Costa Blanca. One blaze broke out at 4pm in Lliber. It had two centres, one in Alcanalí and another in Pedeguer close to the residential Monte Solana area.

The Mayor of Pedeguer, Andrés Ferrer, said it seemed the blaze had been started deliberately. Two fire-fighting helicopters were used and the blaze was declared to be out at 7.30pm.

Two earlier small fires in the region are also both thought to have been started deliberately.

The following day on Thursday, saw another three fires take hold. In Guardamar, firefighters fought all afternoon, against an ever-increasing wall of flames, as they tried to protect a nearby petrol station from becoming engulfed and resulting in disaster.

The fire, which had started sometime around midday, had gone unnoticed until smoke began billowing across the Agip petrol station forecourt, adjacent to the N-332, and the alarm was raised. By then, the flames had taken on such ferocity that three engines were called into attendance but still the fire, fanned by a strong breeze, crept towards the petrol station on the ease side of the road. Guardia, Policia Local and fire crews needed face masks as the smoke completely swallowed up the petrol station. Incredibly, cars pulled in, drivers got out of their cars, choked…and tried to fill up. After three hours, the fire had spread and threatened the petrol station from two sides while firefighters struggled to contain it. However, at four o’clock and with the fire now under control, although still burning viciously, a water-carrying plane was called for and within minutes of it dumping its load onto the flames the fire crews on the ground managed to start winning the battle.

Fire investigators at the scene expect to pin the blame on a stray cigarette or litter that had piled up in the surrounding scrubland catching fire in the heat of the day. Fortunately, no injuries were reported on the day and the services united in warning people of the dangers created by throwing cigarettes and litter into the verge.

The ‘Leader’ was also at the scene later that afternoon in urbanisation La Marina as a fire sent thick black smoke billowing in to the sky at around 5pm causing concern amongst residents.

The owner of the Los Pinchos restaurant, opposite where the blaze started, was first to raise the alarm calling the emergency services just after 5pm. Policia Local were immediately on the scene directing traffic away from the fire as fire crews from Santa Pola and the Vega Baja arrived shortly after. The rapid intervention meant damage was limited and the fire was contained.

Later that evening, in El Galan a forest fire broke out on the road from the urbanisation to San Miguel. One ‘Leader’ reader said they noticed the smoke at about 6.30pm and were thankful the wind was blowing the flames away from their property. Again, the fire was contained quickly.

New Satellite Fire-Detection System

Forest fires are a common place in Spain during the hot summer months and a system is in place to pin point fires and potential hazards.

In the emergency room of Protección Civil, Spain’s emergency coordination service point, indicators lights up on the map of Spain in the emergency room as satellites pick up hot spots. As technicians check it out to see if it is a false alarm, a computer program has combined dozens of variables to produce a simulation of how the fire is likely to advance, minute by minute, without action being taken.

The new satellite fire-detection system was being tested last year and is now fully functional together with the fire simulation program, which was started up this week. 

The satellite Meteosat can spot any abnormal rise in temperature on the surface of the land using infrared technology. There are some false alarms, but when a point lights up on the map it usually means a fire. “It’s an early-detection system, to mobilise state services such as the Emergency Military Unit, in case they are necessary,” says José María García of Protección Civil.  The satellite sends a message every 15 minutes, with a margin of error of three kilometers. Technicians then enter the Meteosat location coordinates into the program, and within 15 seconds, the system has combined ambient temperature, wind speed and direction, slopes, humidity, the type of combustible material in the zone (scrub, forest, degree of dryness) with a number of other factors, and projects the probable advance of the fire on the screen. Towns, highways and gas stations also appear on the screen to show the time available for evacuation, if necessary. 

This system is supplementary to the nationwide fire risk bulletins published twice daily on the public information page It is also additional to the system for follow-up of fire prevention resources, indicating the nationwide distribution of firefighting equipment, such as planes and helicopters.

In 2005 at one point half the forest fires in Europe were burning in Spain, and the year-end balance amounted to over 172,000 hectares of forest and scrub land burnt. This year, abundant rain has delayed the high fire risk period, says Carlos Dueña of the fire service. But this has a negative aspect. “All the grass that has grown high with the rain, is now drying, and will soon be easily combustible.”

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