Worst blazes in 10 years destroy forests in Spain
MADRID – Spain is facing its worst wildfires in a decade, with more than three times as much forest having burned so far this year as in the whole of 2011.
It was not immediately clear whether the increase was directly related to the cuts to firefighting budgets, but firefighters have called for more investment in essential equipment and better risk compensation.
“There were firefighters who could not get involved with the job of fighting the fires because they didn’t even have gloves or boots,” the newspaper El País quoted Antonio del Rio, of the Catalan firefighters’ branch of the UGT trade union, as saying.
Others complained of a shortage of breathing apparatuses.
Spain has unveiled a swathe of austerity measures to cut some €65 billion from its deficit in two years in an effort to avoid a full-scale sovereign bailout, but those cutbacks inevitably have consequences for public services.
More than 132 hectares of forest have burned this year, compared to just under 40 hectares in 2011, El País reported, citing ministry of the environment figures.
The ministry in March allocated €19 million for fighting fires in national parks between 2012 and 2016 but by June had cut that by nearly €4 million, some 20 per cent, the newspaper said.
National parks have been among the areas hardest hit by the raging fires that have driven hundreds from their homes.
The ministry said it was the responsibility of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions to set their own firefighting budgets, but it would take responsibility for fires burning in national parks until regional authorities stepped in.
Catalonia, Valencia and the Canary Islands, the three regions that have been most affected by the fires that started over the last week, are among the most indebted in Spain.
They have been effectively shut off from the capital markets after having missed fiscal deficit targets last year. – (Reuters)