The Office of the Public Prosecutor specializing in the environment and urban planning has put in the spotlight the City Councils for the lack of planning in the fight against fires, a plague that each year eats tens of thousands of hectares of forest in Spain – in 2018, for example, more than 25,162 – and consumes huge resources -1,000 million euros only in extinction per year, according to WWF-. The municipalities located in High Risk Zones (ZAR) of fire -basically, those with forest land- must have prevention plans, which contain the measures to prevent the flames from leaping and to coordinate better when the fire starts. But the level of compliance of the Consistories is very low, although in some cases (such as Andalusia) this obligation dates from the beginning of the century.
The fiscal coordinator of environment, Antonio Vercher, has sent an official notice to the councilors in which he warns that he is carrying out a "follow-up" of the "municipalities of the areas with the highest incidence of forest fires". It also adds that the absence of these plans can have consequences when a fire occurs and a criminal investigation is opened. "Forest fires can constitute a crime against collective security and, ultimately, against the environment," explains the prosecutor in his letter.
The office has already been sent to the Femp (Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces) and the Ministry of Agriculture, which last month distributed this information in the last sectorial conference with the autonomies. Although the fight against fire and the monitoring of the development of these local plans corresponds to the autonomies, Minister Luis Planas explains that he considered it important to include this issue in the sector conference. "It's a serious problem because there are municipalities in some of the most problematic areas that do not have local fire plans," says Planas.
Being an autonomous competition it is difficult to know the degree of compliance with the regulations, which in principle obliges all municipalities in the forest areas of the country. But in July, the Office of the Prosecutor headed by Vercher selected 151 localities. It was based on a report from the Ministry of Agriculture on the places that were most at risk of a fire starting from climatological and historical reasons. And the Office of the Prosecutor sent letters to those 151 Consistories -of Galicia, Catalonia, Valencia, Murcia and Andalusia- asking them to report on their prevention plans. "After numerous requests", indicates in his office, the Prosecutor's Office concludes that only 38 localities (25%) have plans in order. The majority (47 municipalities) maintain that they are processing it; 19 admit that they do not have it; and in 16 cases they had not even answered on February 1, when the prosecutor made the last count.
A spokesman for the Femp said Monday that this federation has already distributed the brief of the Office of the Prosecutor between the municipalities of the country – in Spain there are just over 8,000. However, this spokesman said that the concrete measures will have to take the next directive of the Femp to leave the polls in the municipal elections of May. According to these same sources, the problem of the lack of prevention plans was also addressed on Monday in the Permanent Commission of the National Council of Civil Protection, where this federation is also present.
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"In some cases, the municipalities have not been aware that they should develop these plans," explains Rosa Planelles, specialist in forest fires and member of the board of the Official College of Forestry Engineers. But, in many cases, the mayors claim "lack of resources," adds this specialist. "There is a lack of resources and conscience", summarizes Planelles, who applauds the step taken by the Office of the Prosecutor to put this issue on the table.
In the letter Vercher points out that "can invest" each campaign "enormous human and material efforts in the fight against forest fires, with human and property losses," but "gives the impression that by dint of repeating year after year the same approach forget essential aspects such as the obligatory fire prevention plans ". These plans should serve to "reduce the likelihood of a fire"; "Minimize detection and response times of extinguishing media"; and "reduce the dangerousness of the forest fire once it has been produced". The plans, the prosecutor adds, "regulate the activities and uses likely to generate a forest fire" and "design the necessary prevention infrastructures to avoid them".
Mónica Parrilla, responsible for the Greenpeace fire campaign, explains that when a forest fire occurs, the priority of extinguishing services is to safeguard human lives, then the goods and, finally, the environment. "If there is preventive planning, in addition to having fewer fires, when they reach extinction, they are less chaotic," says Parrilla. These plans, among other issues, address the organization of resources available in a municipality when a fire breaks out. "We are in a new era of fires and it is essential that the law be followed," says Parrilla.
Mónica Parrilla, responsible for the area of fires of Greenpeace, considers "scandalous" the absence of plans against fires of the City Councils. Last year, this organization produced a report in which it concluded that 80% of the municipalities located in risk areas -that this NGO raises to almost 5,000 localities- did not have emergency plans. But Parrilla admits that they are not official data, but of those that this organization has obtained from some autonomous communities.
Both Parrilla and the engineer of Montes Rosa Planelles regret that, until now, the absence of these municipal plans has not had consequences. "We have to analyze the causes that cause fires, but also the causes that propagate them," says Monica Parrilla. And among the latter are, for this specialist, climate change, the absence of forest management and rural abandonment. Planelles also warns that the "lame leg" of the fight against fires in Spain is, precisely, prevention.