Spain–– The Universitat de València presented a preliminary report on the major fires Valencia suffered this summer. The report, lead by the professor of physical geography Alejandro Pérez Cueva, suggests that repopulation of the countryside is an essential tool to avoid major forest fires, and points out alternative solutions such as biological firewalls that involve developing pastures.
The document was presented during the celebration of the 1st Forum of Forest Fires Universitat de València-Ayuntamientos, which is an encounter between the academic institution and the town councils to discuss the forest fires that took place last summer. It was held at the Botanic Gardens and its goal was to detect ‘the needs of the towns affected by the fires and promote the relations between the local authorities and the University experts’, as the Vice-Principal stated.
The experts analyzed this summer’s major fires -Benagéber, La Safor, Cortes, Andilla and Chulilla-, which destroyed a total of 63.520 hectares. ‘We are studying the basic elements of the disasters like the use of the land and the weather conditions, but also the impact of the fires on biodiversity’, said Pérez Cueva. For example, the Andilla and Cortes fires affected valuable areas including the Sierra Calderona nature reserve, Martés, El Ave, and Malacara ranges, La Mola de Cortes and El Caroig, or the central stretch of the river Palancia; four micro flora reserves; three fauna reserves in Alcublas and two caves used by bats.
This report also analyzes socio-economic and demographic issues. ‘We can see once again that population decline in rural areas has favoured major fires’, adds the professor. The municipal areas that have suffered the most are Dos Aguas (94,9%), Macastre (77,3%), Sacañet (67,45%), Alcublas (66,6%), Bugarra (66,2%), Teresa (59,38%), Catadau (49,2%), Llocnou de Sant Jeroni (42,11%), and Chulilla (38,36%).
‘Our work proves that conventional firewalls and natural barriers have not worked, so it is urgent to implement biological firewalls, something which is already included in the regional forest planning regulation. This involves recovering traditional activities such as pastures or farming activities’, Pérez Cueva said. He also pointed out the importance of avoiding the use of heavy machinery on burned land to avoid erosion.
Regarding the influence of the weather, scientists analyzed the disasters and found that the wind caused the fire to behave in three different ways. In the first of the fires, Benagéber (440 hectares), flames were caused by a cold breeze that stopped at nightime. In the second one however, La Safor area (1.329 hectares), there was a central focus and variable East and West winds whereas the three last major fires in Cortes (32.443 hectares), Andilla (21.249 hectares) and Chulilla (8.057 hectares), were characterized by the classic and very persistent South-East wind.
The towns’ mayors claimed for a political will to implement effective measures of recovery. Manuel Civera from Alcublas stressed the economic value of the natural and environmental resources as well as the food products that are provided by these inland towns. He also added that despite all the regional, national and European regulations depopulation has not been avoided, so there must be a real political effort to change the situation.
The representative of the town council of Enguera, Santiago Arévalo, stated that ‘there will be no society without a cohesion between the coastal zones and inland areas.’ He also stressed the need to start new economic activities such as the use of forest biomass to produce energy.