Forest warden Francisco Cuevas shows the new branches of a cork oak affected by the fire. Antonio Salas
Just like the Phoenix the Mediterranean mountain forests rise from their ashes. Within the desolate charred landscape vegetation is showing its ability to survive even the worst catastrophes.
It’s only just over six weeks since wildfire ravaged the Costa del Sol but the cork oaks, pines and palmettos are starting to show signs of life encouraged by the recent rainfall.
At the end of last week SUR accompanied Mijas based forest warden Francisco Cuevas and land owner Félix Moreno into the heart of the charred woodlands. The visit coincided with the arrival of Infoca and Junta de Andalucía workers to help town halls in their efforts to clear up the land and encourage the return of flora and fauna.
The visit starts next to the Mediterranean hackberry or nettle tree at the Casa de la Matanza. The tree is registered due to its natural value and is said to be around 150 years old. Before August 30th it measured three metres around the trunk and 17 in height. The flames damaged a section of the trunk that now lies on the ground, thanks to the tree’s ability to free itself of the parts of its organism it no longer needs. Now green shoots are pushing their way through the charred bark. “This one’s alive; it’ll be alright now”, says the warden with satisfaction.
Not far away the small palms, palmettos, almost as old as the hackberry tree, are further proof of the forest’s power of regeneration. Their trunks are black with charcoaled bunches of dates still hanging from them. However a new generation of green palms are already emerging among the old burned leaves. The abundant rainfall at the end of September played a vital role in the process. In this area the showers were not torrential and were spaced out in time, which means they have watered the roots without causing the much-feared erosion of the soil left exposed by the fire.
“Now we need another shower, though”, points out the warden.
Further along the route is a small pine grove which still gives off a smell of smoke. The black ground contrasts with new white campanula flowers. There are several holes in the ground.
“The fire burns the entire trunk down to the roots. Some are more than a metre deep”, explains the expert. Others, however, remain standing and on the branches some new green pine needles have appeared among the dried ones.
Félix Moreno owns part of the only pure cork oak wood that existed in the municipality of Mijas. It covered some 235 hectares in the area known as Cerro Molinillo, in Entrerríos. Many of the 170 year old trees were attacked by the flames, and those that had had their cork removed were unprotected. But all is not lost; here too green shoots are already appearing. It is calculated that between 70 and 80 per cent of the trees will survive.
Other younger cork oaks in Cerro del Camorro are showing tiny new branches emerging from the charred trunks.
Meanwhile work is taking place in Mijas and the other five affected municipalities to renew tracks and clear firebreaks. Last week the town halls’ efforts were reinforced with the arrival of workers from the Infoca forest fire brigade and the Environment Department at the Junta de Andalucía. Over the next six months they will work to create barriers to stop erosion in the case of torrential rain, as well as to clear dead wood, as a prior step to the controlled reforestation scheme that will get under way next spring.
The battle is also on to bring back the area’s fauna. The forest warden is pleased that animals are starting to return to their habitat, but food is in short supply. Several days a week he takes corn feed into the mountains to encourage animals to stay, rather than going back down to the coast in search for food. So far he has spotted wild goats, partridges and wild boar.
“We have attracted them away from the golf courses and further into the mountains”, says the warden who praised the collaboration of local hunters. “They have given funds to buy food and are collaborating in clearing the mountains”, he stresses.