Why didn’t Catalonia burn like Tenerife, Greece or Canada? | Catalonia

Catalonia had all the makings this summer to become the wildfire hotspot it will be in 2022: prolonged drought and high temperatures. But from January to August, just two days before the end of the climatic summer season, 75% fewer hectares were burned than in 2022 in the same period: 1,371 hectares compared to 5,834 hectares. …

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Catalonia had all the makings this summer to become the wildfire hotspot it will be in 2022: prolonged drought and high temperatures. But from January to August, just two days before the end of the climatic summer season, 75% fewer hectares were burned than in 2022 in the same period: 1,371 hectares compared to 5,834 hectares. An area of ​​573 hectares has burned in the worst fire this year – In Portebou and Cholera – far from the large outbreaks like the one that occurred last week in Tenerife (8,000 hectares), which have so far been the most significant in Spain. Thanks to the rains in May and June, along with other institutional factors, it became possible to avoid the most catastrophic scenarios such as the one that occurred in the Canary Islands and others in the Mediterranean Sea (Greece, Turkey and Italy). In addition, this weekend it will rain all over Catalonia –Up to 100 liters per square meter in the Pyrenees Or 75 on the coast- it could be a lifeline until the end of the year. However, forest experts ask us not to lower our guard: the consequences of climate change increase risks in the medium term also in Catalonia, which has almost twice the area of ​​forests in the European Union.

Since 1994, the year in which 76,000 hectares were burned in Catalonia, “a lot of work has been done, although there is still a lot to do”, explains Ferran Dalmão Rovira, a forest engineer. He asserts that the community is “the region with the most advanced planning against forest fires with Valencia and Andalusia” according to Greenpeace’s latest report on the subject, the consultant he runs (Medi XXI GSA) was involved. Work was done on “key factors” such as awareness, planning or recognition of people in rural areas. On a technical level, the Alpha Plan stands out, a daily updated map of fire risk at four levels prepared by the Rural Agents Authority and the Forest Fire Prevention Service. The Director General of Forest Ecosystems and Environmental Management, Ana Sanitgas, defends that the 2022-2025 fire prevention plan, at a cost of 78 million euros, is “the most ambitious in the history of Catalonia multiplying previous budgets by five”.

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Antonio del Río, general secretary of the General Confederation of Workers of Bumpers de Catalunya, notes that since 2018 the “endemic evil” of reducing the number of firefighting personnel has been reversed in the state. He is now focusing on the group of volunteer firefighters, where he sees the need for greater professionalism: “We need more quality, not quantity,” explains the trade unionist. And this sector announced a strike to improve its conditions at the beginning of this month. In total there are 74 volunteer parks with 1,715 firefighters and 70 centers with 2,269 employees.

Revitalization of the rural world and preventive burning

In addition to professional teams, Dalmau notes, the second pillar in fire prevention is rural land, “which includes agricultural associations and large-scale livestock projects such as the so-called fire herds.” He points, for example, to the pastures of cows and goats that were key to mitigating the Portobó fire. There are 45 Catalan farms like this one eating dry grass in strategic areas, which the Generalitat subsidizes at 150 euros per hectare, knowing that it is pastures with lower productivity. Only a landscape of “cultivated fields and grazing areas interspersed with forest makes it possible to avoid large fires”, Dalmau concludes, which consume more than 500 hectares.

This specific activity of the primary sector adds to the set of incentives to generate activity in the rural world. For example, the local economy aims to “take advantage of all remaining biomass from forests to replace the greenhouse gases with renewable resources.” Dalmau insists that the amount of fuel in the mountains should be limited to limit the active development of fires.

To the extent that rural activity is stimulated, “it will not be implemented at the levels of past centuries, before the industrial revolution,” says Louis Brutons, an ecologist and researcher at the Center for Environmental Research and Forest Applications (CREAF). The expert points out that another essential landscape tool is “regulated preventive burning”, which is key to rebalancing ecosystems and restoring biodiversity, as in the case of Bonelli’s vultures. She points out that tests of this kind have begun in Val d’Aran and that some small fires have not been intervened: “It’s small fires to prevent big fires.”

A larger forest mass in a more negative scenario

The May and June rains were an “oxygen ball” ahead of the firefighting campaign on Brutons. It is a circumstance that did not happen in 2022, in addition to a few episodes coinciding with an abundance of winds. The components that correspond to climate change according to the researcher are two: accumulating drought – which leaves more forest fuel due to reduced moisture – and more frequent heat waves, which cause “abnormally high temperatures for longer”. State Generals projects that by mid-century precipitation will decrease by 7% in the 2023-2027 Inland Basin Management Plan. In addition, the latest Debuscat report, prepared by CREAF, recorded last year a record number of Catalan hectares affected by drought since its registration (2012). They add that the year 2022 was marked by different temperatures and precipitation compared to the average of the past 30 years, a phenomenon that also exists this year.

And in Spain, there have been more than 2,000 major fires since 1968, when records began. The most dangerous event in Catalonia ranks twelfth at the national level: Masarach (Girona) in July 1986, which left 19,612 hectares burned. They are followed by the fires of Montmajor and Nevis (Barcelona-Lleida, 16,833) and San Mateo de Pajes (Barcelona, ​​13,323), both in 1994. Large,” says Dalmau. The average annual number of claims in the last decade in Spain (10,600) is approximately Half of what it was in 1991-2000, but large fires are growing: “0.54% of fires in 2022 in Spain cause 80% of the area to burn.”

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Two-thirds of Catalonia is covered by forests: it has grown by more than 60% in the last half century, mainly due to the abandonment of the primary sector. Global warming has made three-quarters of the community’s forests more resistant to water shortages, with Mediterranean species such as pine, oak and cork oak present (compared to continental species such as beech trees). However, having such a large amount of forest mass with frequent droughts still dooms the trees to more water stress which leaves more dry organic matter to act as fuel in the face of heat.

At the end of August, the risk is expected to drop dramatically as there is more humidity and longer nights. However, climate change is causing longer summers as higher temperatures take longer to fade. “This lengthening, combined with a reduction in the risk of wildfires in the off-season, indicates the need for caution,” Dalmau warns. “The occurrence of dry storms over a country suffering from severe drought can put an end to this period of calm. The fires these days in Greece show how In a few hours tens of thousands of hectares can be lost We cannot avoid storms nor accidents. Yes, we can avoid being careless and having too much fuel in the woods.

“The fire season has been seasonally adjusted. It’s increasingly easy to have a serious fire risk outside of the summer months,” says Cristina Santin Nuño, a Ramón y Cajal researcher at the Mixed Institute for Biodiversity Research. She notes that forest legislation for large fires has been Recently amended to read the “365 days a year prevention policy.” One of their most recent reports says: “In the Mediterranean basin, there are 50% more fire-prone days due to weather conditions than in the 1980s.” “Fire is an essential element of the Mediterranean landscape average. Natural areas can burn at any time. He concludes that what we can do is influence human societies in the least negative way.

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Sacha Woodward

"Wannabe writer. Lifelong problem solver. Gamer. Incurable web guru. Professional music lover."

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