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The Sierra Bermeja fire will increase the risk of flooding on the Costa del Sol, warns expert

The Sierra Bermeja fire.
The Sierra Bermeja fire. / ÑITO SALAS
  • The huge blaze devastated almost 10,000 hectares of land in the Sierra Bermeja and the Genal Valley, and claimed the life of an Infoca firefighter

The huge Sierra Bermeja fire, that burned for six days before being declared 'controlled', will 'seriously' increase the possibility of flooding in Estepona and on the western Costa del Sol strip in the coming years. That is the claim of Antonio Gallegos, an associate professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Malaga.

The expert points out that one of the worst fires recorded in Andalucía in recent years not only destroyed almost 10,000 hectares of land in Sierra Bermeja and the Genal Valley, and claimed the life of an Infoca firefighter, but added to the damage must be added "the loss of soil” and the immediate consequent risk of flooding on the coast, now the autumn rains are due.

According to the study carried out by Antonio Gallegos, professor and researcher in the Department of Geography at the University of Malaga, the fire will mean that during the next year some 1,320,000 tonnes of soil will be lost in the municipalities of Estepona, Jubrique and Genalguacil. This is almost twice the potential loss of soils under normal conditions, he explains.

For the Malaga province, as a whole, it will mean an increase in soil losses of two per cent.

“This is probably the most serious consequence after the fire, because although the recovery of the forest mass is relatively fast in Mediterranean species, the regeneration of the soils is a much slower process, taking several dozen years", he says.

And he warns about the consequent risk of flooding.

The Sierra Bermeja, says the expert, "constituted an excellent guarantee against flooding on the western Costa del Sol, thanks to its vegetation cover and its great capacity to soak up precipitation and mitigate the risks of torrential rains." But he estimates the infiltration capacity of the burned area has been drastically reduced, going from 112.8 l/m2 to only 14.6.

“This means that, before the fire, only storms with more than 112 litres per square metre generated runoff, but from now on, any rain that exceeds 14 litrs will generate runoff. As a result, the frequency and severity of flooding will be much higher. And the risks will only begin to fade when the forest and the soils recover,” Gallegos says.

For the municipalities of Estepona, Jubrique and Genalguacil, the water retention capacity of the soils has been reduced by half (51, 55 and 45 per cent respectively). These estimates have been made using the USLE (Universal Soil Loss Equation) formulation and Instruction 5.2-IC for surface drainage.

The expert says that, in the coming months, some hydrological-forest correction tasks will be essential, to help recover the forest and reduce the loss of soil and the probable floods on the coastal strip.