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Forest firefighter: 'We know that we are risking our lives'

Ildefonso.
Ildefonso. / SALVADOR SALAS
  • Infoca workers tell SUR of the 'most complex' fire of their lives, with fourteen-hour days and moments of 'danger'

Ildefonso has been working as a forest firefighter since 1988 but has never been involved in such a "complex" fire before.

First, because the area is full of scattered houses: "In the middle of the mountain you find houses and that greatly complicates the tasks of extinction." Added to that is the wind, the orography and "how dirty the mountains are, because I don't know if they had been cleared by grazing," says Ildefonso.

José Carlos, a fellow Infoca firefighter, who joined in 1992, points out: "The first thing is to safeguard lives and then comes the protection of the mountains."

They both come from Jaén and are staying at the Benarrabá hostel with the rest of their colleagues. They rest there after working days that usually last fourteen hours: "They give us our instructions and we start to act on the orders of the fire extinction manager."

The death of a colleague on Thursday dampened the group's spirits just as the fire control work began. That "changed everything, whether you like it or not, it remains on your mind."

Fighting bull

"Misfortunes happen, although safety is always a priority for Infoca", they acknowledge: "It happened to us on Sunday. We had to pull out. We attacked an area that was quiet and suddenly, in a flash, we heard a strange sound and it exploded. In a matter of seconds they were in danger: "It was a steep hillside, we assume that the fire heated the entire area and suddenly it burst into flames." It is what they call return fires: it appears that the mountain has burned, but it can still burn again if the direction of the wind changes.

"A forest fire is like a fighting bull, you never know where it can come at you from", they say: "And the adrenaline is always there, although we have a plan B in case things go wrong." The support of observers, who are part of the team, helps identify possible risks.

“The concern of our family’s is always there, but they know that we are professionals, who have been doing this for thirty years”, says Ildefonso.

Risking lives

Each unit has seven firefighters: “We are a family. We spend many hours together and we know each other very well. But even when we work with other groups we feel protected. Our colleagues will give their lives for us and, in case of danger, they will always be there, like us for them.”

"We know that we are risking our lives, even in the smallest fires." The helicopter accident that happened yesterday, although all its occupants were unharmed, confirms that level of risk.

"I know that many do not understand it, but I enjoy when I go out to work. Not because I want to put out fires, but because I like my job, although of course we would prefer that no fires break out," explains José Carlos.