Forest fires: how to prevent them and what to do in the event of one

News - 2024.7.1

1/07/2024. Prevent Forest Fires. Prevent Forest Fires

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The State Meteorological Agency, which reports to the Ministry of Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, considers it highly probable that the summer of 2024 will be warmer than usual throughout the country. In terms of rainfall, the season could be drier than average.

On June 18 last, the Council of Ministers approved the action plan for preventing and dealing with forest fires for 2024. This is a set of interdepartmental measures approved by the different executives since 2005 to establish and coordinate the means by which the General State Administration supports the regional mechanisms.

The planned state arrangements are similar to those of previous years. In terms of human resources, it is mainly made up of personnel from the Forest Fire Brigades (BRIF), the Military Emergency Unit (UME) and members of the state law enforcement forces and agencies

Among the many actions outlined in it, the plan maintains the guidelines for action set out by the environmental sections of the public prosecutors' offices, which ensure that all town councils have Fire Prevention Plans; it provides for reinforcement of Civil Guard personnel, through the Nature Protection Service (Seprona); it increases the estimated budget for actions by the General Directorate of Roads in fire prevention work, and includes the call, through the State Research Agency, for aid for research projects aimed at preventing and mitigating the effects of forest fires.

Last year, 2023, was the second lowest year for wildfires in the decade: 7,748 cases were reported, compared to an annual average of almost 10,000. Some 19% of them were intentional, 6 points less than in 2022. The Government attributes these results in part to the package of measures taken in August 2022 to improve the autonomous communities' response capacity to forest fires. The forest area affected last year amounted to almost 90,000 hectares (the fourth worst year of the decade). Wildfires also forced the evacuation of more than 28,000 people, and 344 people were arrested or investigated, 16% less than in 2022.

What is a forest fire?

A forest fire is a fire that spreads uncontrolled through forest land that was not intended to burn. In addition to the forest and environmental damage it causes, there are also consequences for the civilian population and their property.

What are the possible origins of a forest fire?

The heat source that ignites combustible plant material may be of natural origin (e.g. lightning), but most forest fires have a human origin, either due to negligence in fire management (agricultural and livestock burning, burning of rubbish, cigarette butts, pyrotechnics, etc.), by chance (sparks from power lines, vehicle accidents, etc.) or intentionally.

What are the basic recommendations for dealing with forest fires?

  • Avoid throwing cigarettes, litter and glass bottles that can act as a magnifying glass.
  • Do not light fires or bonfires in the countryside or on land near to it.
  • Pay special attention to the autonomous community rules on fire prevention and authorised periods for stubble burning.
  • Camp only in authorised areas, as they have fire protection measures in place, and evacuation is easier.
  • If the fire is discovered when it is just taking hold, call 112 immediately.
  • In the event of a fire, avoid going into the countryside or forest.
  • In the event of a forest fire emergency, always follow the instructions of the competent authorities.

What preventive measures should be taken in the vicinity of a country house?

  • Do not burn leaves or other plant debris on hot or windy days or without permission.
  • Have a plan of action in case of forest fires.
  • Know the possible evacuation routes.
  • Keep access roads to houses clear of grass and weeds.
  • Keep roofs clear of combustible materials.

What preventive measures should be taken in the countryside?

  • Do not light fires
  • Put matches and cigarettes out properly and never throw them out of car windows.
  • Do not leave bottles, glass objects or rubbish behind.
  • Only burn stubble or plant debris with authorisation and under safe conditions. Keep an eye on it while it is burning and do not leave until it is completely extinguished, checking the embers thoroughly. Care should also be taken with machinery that can generate sparks or electric shocks.

How should you act in the vicinity of a forest fire?

  • Call 112 as a matter of urgency
  • If the fire is very small or incipient, try to put it out, always prioritising safety.
  • If the fire gets bigger, move away in the opposite direction to the smoke and breathe through your nose, taking care to cover it with a damp cloth.
  • Always run downhill and do not seek refuge in deep areas.
  • Do not attempt to cross the flames; if there is no other way out, cross where the front is weakest.
  • In the event that the fire catches up with you, you need to situate yourself in the area that is already burned and always turn away from the prevailing wind.
  • If your clothes catch fire, do not run, but roll on the ground and, if you have a blanket, cover yourself with it.

What should be done if a fire breaks out near a house?

  • Use hoses to wet the roof and surrounding area
  • Do not throw water in areas where there may be electrical wires.
  • Close all doors, windows and shutters to prevent air currents and flames from entering.
  • Plug cracks on the outside with water-soaked cloths.
  • Disconnect all supplies
  • In the event of an evacuation order, the instructions of the competent authority must be followed. In the absence of such an order, it is advisable not to leave the house.

Non official translation