Forest fires: how to prevent and respond to them?

Jul 16, 2023 | Current affairs, Featured, Revista Lloseta, Thursday Daily Bulletin, Tradition

High temperatures increase the risk of forest fires, so citizens must take extreme precautions to avoid them and know how to react if they occur.

On 20 June, the Council of Ministers approved the action plan for the prevention and fight against forest fires for 2023, which establishes the resources with which the General State Administration supports the autonomous communities.

Forest fires

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In 2022, forest fires in Spain caused 4 fatalities and burned more than 300,000 hectares. In addition, the number of large fires tripled the average over the last 10 years, and the Security Forces and Corps had to evacuate more than 30,000 residents. The agents of the Guardia Civil’s Nature Protection Service (Seprona), in charge of investigating the origin of the fires and bringing those responsible to justice, concluded that 584 fires had been intentionally set.

The government launched this year’s campaign against forest fires on 28 April, almost two months earlier than usual, to adapt to the new scenario brought about by climate change. The risk of forest fires is currently very high or extreme in most of the country and is expected to remain so for the next few days.

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 can be the origin of a forest fire?
The heat source that ignites combustible plant material may be of natural origin -for example, 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 against forest fires?
Avoid throwing cigarettes, rubbish and glass bottles, which can act as a magnifying glass.
Do not light fires or bonfires in the forest or on nearby land.
Pay special attention to the regulations of the autonomous community on fire prevention and authorised periods for stubble burning.
Camp only in authorised areas, as they have protection measures against a possible fire, and their evacuation is easier.
If a fire is discovered at the beginning, call 112 immediately.
If you are caught in the middle of a fire, you should avoid entering the forest or woodland.
In the event of a forest fire emergency, always follow the instructions of the competent authorities.
Recommendations for preventing forest fires

What preventive measures should be taken in the vicinity of a country house?
Do not burn leaves or other plant debris on very hot or windy days or without authorisation.
Have a plan of action in case of forest fires.
Know the possible evacuation routes
Keep access roads to houses clear of grass or undergrowth.
Keep roofs clear of combustible materials.
What preventive measures should be taken in the forest?
Do not light fires

Put out matches and cigarettes properly and never throw them out of the car window.
Do not leave bottles, glass objects or rubbish behind.
Only burn stubble or plant debris with authorisation and in safe conditions. Keep an eye on the burning and do not leave until it is completely extinguished, checking the embers thoroughly. It is also advisable to be careful 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 becomes larger, move away in the opposite direction to the smoke and breathe through your nose, trying to cover it with a damp cloth.
Always flee downhill and do not seek refuge in deep areas.
Do not try to cross the flames; if there is no other way out, cross where the front is weaker.
In the event of being hit by fire, always stay away from the prevailing wind in the area already burned.
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 the fire is near a house?
Use hoses to wet the roof and the surroundings
Do not throw water on areas where there may be electrical wires.
Close all doors, windows and shutters to prevent draughts and flames from entering the house.
Plug cracks to the outside with water-dampened cloths.
Disconnect all supplies
In the event of an evacuation order, follow the instructions of the competent authority. If there is no such order, it is advisable not to leave the house.