Until recently, the fire season or period of high fire danger had not yet started in Spain, which, in general terms, and with differences between Autonomous Communities —due to their climatic and historical conditions— would extend annually between June 15 and September 15.
What we are experiencing, directly or through the media, is that the fires have advanced. The surge in Asturias at the end of March, or the first major forest fire (fire that consumes an area of more than 500 hectares) this year at the same time in Teruel-Castellón, has burned nearly 5,000 hectares. More recent is the one that has affected more than 10,000 hectares in Las Hurdes and Sierra de Gata.
To what extent are we facing an abnormality?
Las official statistics prepared by the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge For the period between January 1 and April 30, 2023, values are above the average of the previous 10 years in the number of forest hectares affected by fire (more than double) and in the number of large fires ( six in 2023 compared to two on average in the previous decade).
Some Autonomous Communities have recognized the exceptionality of the situation and have brought forward the period of danger
Taking into account that the total number of fires this year is only slightly higher than the average value of the last decade, it is the increase in the number of large fires the one that explains the increase in the affected area, pointing to fires that are not more numerous, but more intense. However, these same statistics include, in the aforementioned decade, other “abnormal” years, such as 2017, with higher values of hectares destroyed by fire and number of mega-fires.
In this context, some Autonomous Communities have recognized the exceptionality of the situation and have brought forward the period of danger; This is the case of Andalusia, which anticipated the average fire alert period from May 1 to April 15, in accordance with the meteorological conditions marked by high temperatures and lack of precipitation.
What justifies this scenario?
Numerous studies have documented the relationship between heat waves and prolonged periods of drought, which give rise to very low values of humidity of the vegetation, with the increase in the number of large forest fires. But not only the weather conditions play in their favor out of season.
The lack of management of forest fuel, linked to the lack of management in large areas of our territory, gives rise to plant formations with horizontal and vertical continuity and high fuel load.
The lack of forest fuel management, linked to the lack of management in large areas of our territory, gives rise to plant formations with horizontal and vertical continuity and a high fuel load. Thus, dense wooded masses, with an abundance of scrub in the understory, cause the accumulation of high amounts of forest fuel capable of burning, facilitating the appearance of high-intensity fires that affect large areas.
What can we do?
Numerous experts agree on the need to promote forest management, for which it is necessary to increase investment in forest areas, to increase the profitability of the forests and also help to fight rural depopulationas well as implement legislation that facilitates said management.
The recovery of a territory with a mosaic of land uses, in which forests, scrub formations, crops and pastures coexist, is also an objective to pursue in the prevention of forest fires. Prescribed fire and controlled grazing are important tools to take into account when managing forest fuel, and extensive livestock farming also provides economic value to rural areas.
The well-known concept of ‘learning to live with fire’ is a framework for addressing the challenge posed by current climate forecasts, which will force us to adapt to a new reality
Improve understanding between the rural population, who lives in the environment affected by the fires, and the urban population, who enjoys this environment, but does not always know or understand it, as well as the education and training, are also revealed as lines of action that need to be emphasized. In this sense, the well-known concept of ‘learning to live with fire’ is a framework for tackling the challenge posed by current climate forecasts, which will force us to adapt to a new reality.
These are just some of the measures that need to be addressed, if we do not want terms like “sixth generation fires”, “megafires”, “extreme fires”, “fires out of suppression capacity” and “fires out of season”, are increasingly making headlines in the media.
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