Spain must do more to prepare for increasingly virulent wildfires stoked by climate change, a large group of the country’s leading wildfire prevention experts said on Thursday.
A declaration backed by 60 experts and institutions said the "increasingly intense fires ... are producing unprecedented ecological and social consequences.”
The experts concluded that Spanish society must come to terms with the emergencies that it will likely face, given that wildfires in increasingly hot and dry conditions in the Iberian Peninsula are often “beyond the capability (of firefighters) to extinguish” with their own means.
The declaration was the outcome of a two-day meeting in Madrid in March organized by the Pau Costa Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Barcelona that works for fire prevention awareness. That meeting included wildlife and forestry experts drawn from government, academia, NGOs such as Greenpeace and the WWF, and firefighting services.
They urge Spain to increase its management of wooded areas to compensate for the abandonment of traditional forest industries and to quadruple its budget for prevention.
Only about 78,000 hectares (192,000 acres), or 0.3% of Spain’s woods, are currently managed, the foundation estimates. The declaration calls for that to be increased to 1%, some 260,000 hectares (642,000 acres) and for Spanish authorities to dedicate the necessary resources.
The report sets a recommended figure of 1 billion euros ($1.09 billion) that Spain should be spending on forest management, to help compensate for the abandonment of traditional uses of wooded areas by local communities, such as taking timber or firewood.
The declaration was presented Thursday simultaneously in Barcelona and Madrid.
“This declaration is born from the need to create a consensus and bring together voices from different regions to send a powerful message and increase awareness so we can act and prepare for the wildfires of the future,” Míriam Piqué, head of Sustainable Forest Management Unit in the Forest Science Center of Catalonia, said in a wooded area near Barcelona.
In Spain, each region is charged with managing its forests and fighting wildfires. That has led to considerable differences in the firefighting muscle of poorer and less populated regions like Castilla y León, where one fire fighter died last year in massive blazes, compared to wealthier ones like Madrid’s central region or northeast Catalonia.
The emergency firefighting brigades of Spain’s army are often deployed to help put out the worst fires.
Some 267,000 hectares (666,000 acres) burned last year in Spain, making 2022 its worst year of fire destruction since 1994, government statistics said. That was three times the national average for the past decade of 94,000 hectares (232,000 acres). According to the European Union’s Copernicus satellite observation service, Spain accounted for 35% of all burned land in European wildfires last year.
After a record hot 2022, Spain saw the arrival of forest fires earlier than usual this year. Recent rains have provided some relief despite a record-hot spring, but summer is typically dry and authorities are on guard for another difficult season.
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