Warm, dry winds from North Africa are hitting southern Andalucia.
Overhead gantry signs on the motorways warn passing drivers "No tire sus colillas. Alta riesgo de incendio" (never throw out your cigarette butts. High risk of Fire) as the warm winds make the countryside extremely vulnerable to fire. 2005 was devastating for Spain, with its extreme draught. 2006 was less so, yet still saw huges expances of countryside lost to fire. Risk comes in many forms – new roads bringing people into once isolated areas, campers, electrical storms and of course arsonists. 2006 saw huge expanses of the north west of Spain lost to fire, destroying homes, lifestock, timber plantations and natural parks. It was later discovered that most of these devasting fires were set deliberately by fire fighters! Why you may ask. Well, last year saw Asturias and other autonomous areas renegotiating expensive overtime and weekend rates for fire fighters. Cuts were made to teams that worked to protect the forests. In anger and as an illustration of their importance, firefighters started to set fires in the dry, oil laden eucolyptas forests that soon spread across huge areas, destroying homesteads, and even claiming lives. Needless to say, the issue of correctly funding fire fighting in the countryside became headline news across Spain.
Last week I was up in Gaucin, searching properties for my HomeFinder Service, when from the terrace we viewed a small fire that within minutes engulfed a huge amount of land. The warm breeze drove the huge flames further and further up the mountain.
I had viewed this dramatic blaze from the shaded and scented terrace of a finca home on the edge of Gaucin. In true Andalucian style, a formal viewing of a property had evolved into an informal boozy lunch. The owner is a genuinely talented painter, part of the artisan community in this area. There are plenty of wannabees, but there there are also plenty of real artists, like my host.
We left the table to watch in horror and amazement as the blaze took hold. Calls were made to the fire brigade.
Trucks, land rovers, helicopters and planes all arrived, but not before hundreds of hectares had been lost. Remarkably, the house in the centre of the blaze was saved, and many of the ancient cork oak trees seemed to have some natural defence that saved some as flames licked by.
Earlier in the month I had seen the full speed at which the Junta de Andalucia can respond to the threat of fire.
In Ronda a small fire had broken out at a country finca neighbouring patched fields. Quickly the air and land teams assembled and put the blaze out in a less than an hour – impressive action.
Sadly, more and more often, these fires are set deliberately. It was later discovered that the Gaucin blaze was started by a a angry Brit, settling score with a local land owner. How much more will be accept to see Andalucia burning like this?