About 25 hectares of scrubland area were destroyed in the Binimel·là area last Thursday as a result of Menorcas worst wildland fire for more than three years. The blaze, which started at the side of the country lane between Cala Mica and Binimel·là in the Es Mercadal municipality, was first noticed at about 0115 hrs. by a team of refuse collectors working in Fornells who called the Es Mercadal Local Police and reported seeing flames in the area. A unit of the Local Police immediately set out for Binimel·là and the alarm was raised simultaneously with Bombers Menorca (the Island Fire Service), the Institut Balear de la Natura (IBANAT) and the Guardia Civil.
The first team from Ciutadella Fire Station arrived on site at around 0130 hrs. and was subsequently reinforced by professional and volunteer firemen from the Maó, Alaior, Es Mercadal and Ferreries stations as well as IBANATs island-based wildland firefighters. About 50 employees of Bombers Menorca, IBANAT, the Guardia Civil and the Es Mercadal Local police co-operated in the emergency operation which was co-ordinated by the Head of the Ciutadella Fire Station, Joan Gorrías. Eleven fire engines and all-terrain vehicles were deployed to contain the blaze. Three local private ventures lent their support by providing tankers which carried water to the affected zone.
Complicated firefighting Upon their arrival at Binimel·là the firefighting teams encountered a mixture of very challenging conditions: access to the rugged terrain proved to be rather difficult, a strong northerly wind blowing at 50 to 60 kilometres per hour fanned the fire, and airborne support from helicopters or planes could not be provided due to the poor night-time visibility. As a result of these circumstances the fire remained out of control for a number of hours. The most critical period lasted from about 0300 until 0600 hrs. when the fire front extended about a kilometre and spread rapidly from Cala Mica towards Binimel·là in southerly direction, affecting an area covered mostly by scrub and reeds as well as some pine and olive trees. A key priority of the fire-fighters was to contain the blaze along the Cala Mica-Binimel·là road and to prevent it from jumping to the other side.
Given the extent and rapid spread of the fire the Guardia Civil proceeded to awaken and evacuate several people living in houses close to the affected area. This included the proprietor of the Binimel·là Bar Restaurant, a family residing on the Binimel·là estate as well as a homeless man who was known to sleep in an abandoned cottage nearby.
After daybreak on Thursday morning IBANAT was eventually able to provide airborne support. The Ciutadella-based helicopter started contributing to the fire-fighting operation shortly after 0700 hrs. and was soon reinforced by another helicopter which had been transferred from Palma. The helicopter deployment proved to be highly effective; as a result, the blaze was under control at around 1000 hrs. and eventually extinguished during the afternoon hours. Nevertheless IBANAT staff remained on site during the whole of Friday night in order to prevent any possible re-ignition of the fire.
The cause of this serious blaze so far remains unknown and will be the subject of an official investigation. Sources, though, say that several indications suggest the fire was started deliberately, particularly the fact that the blaze appears to have started simultaneously at three different points along the country lane.
During an official visit on Thursday the Mayor of Es Mercadal, Ramon Orfila, confirmed that much of the affected land is municipally-owned and segregated from the Binimel·là estate. He also expressed his gratitude to the firefighters involved in battling the blaze which has been Menorcas worst since the beginning of August 2006 when 137 hectares of wildland were destroyed by a fire in the Es Milocar area.