Image of a forest fire in Mijas in November last year SUR
March rains put back high risk fire season in Malaga province
Forest fires

March rains put back high risk fire season in Malaga province

Last year, the highest alert period was brought forward to 16 May and was extended until 31 October due to the drought

Chus Heredia

Tuesday, 14 May 2024


On paper, the map of the Plan Infoca (forest firefighting unit) website shows the risk of fire is low at the start of this week throughout Malaga province. However, this does not mean we should not be on high alert. On Saturday, a fire broke out in Canillas de Aceituno, which was brought under control in the afternoon and extinguished the following day after burning 2.5 hectares of scrubland and olive groves.

This was the first scare outside the season of greatest risk, which starts on 1 June. Last year, the highest risk period was brought forward to 16 May and was extended until 31 October due to the drought.

This year, the March rains have raised the humidity levels and have meant a return to normality in a summer firefighting campaign in which the budget has been increased and new digital tools for analysis and strategy against fires have been incorporated (Sigdif, which has involved an investment of 2.5 million euros). The Infoca Plan throughout Andalucía has a budget of 243.34 million euros (134.9 million for extinction and 108.4 million for prevention), an increase of 11%.

Forest mass is more humid

The humidity of the forest mass is key: if it is too low, it makes it easy for fire to spread more intensely and rapidly and for it to behave erratically and unpredictably. Storms Monica and Nelson have saved the forests of Andalucía and Malaga from an even more dangerous season than usual.

The new season contrasts with the situation in which Andalucía's forest enclaves found themselves in 2023, an extremely hot and dry year, the second warmest and sixth driest since records started in 1961, a trend that has continued during the first four months of 2024, especially in April. However, we must not let our guard down because the rains have also caused more vegetation to grow, which, when it dries out, will result in a greater amount of combustible material.

Thousands of staff

The team of professionals will be made up of 4,700 staff, a figure similar to that of the previous plan, although the Junta is promoting a recruitment process for permanent staff, for which it has earmarked three million euros.

A few days ago, the Official Gazette of the Andalusian regional government (BOJA) published the Order of 30 April 2024, which approves the plan for the prevention, surveillance and extinction of forest fires in Andalucía for 2024.

Resources in Malaga

Andalucía has a regional operational centre, eight provincial centres, 23 Cedefo (forest defence centres), ten forest defence sub-centres, three specialised brigade bases, 28 helicopter bases, 11 aircraft bases, 88 water reservoirs for aerial, 2,028 water intake points, 198 surveillance points, 174 repeaters, 59 links and 4,628 communications equipment.

In Malaga, the provincial operational centre is in the Andalusian technology park; the Cedefo in Colmenar and Cártama; the Brica, the Cártama airstrip and two amphibious aircraft at Malaga Airport. The three helicopters based in Malaga province are in Colmenar, Ronda and Malaga.

This year, the region will have 117 firefighting vehicles, nine meteorology and transmission vehicles, a planning and monitoring unit based in Malaga and sent by the ministry of ecological transition during the highest risk season, two large fire monitoring units, 1,214 personnel transport vehicles, 14 aircraft and 28 helicopters.

75 municipalities in danger zone

In Andalucía, 2,457 municipalities have forest fire prevention plans. And in the province there are 75 municipalities which are totally or partially deemed danger zones.

In Malaga, meanwhile, the plan is designed for 41,278 hectares of regional public woodland, 73,650 hectares belonging to local councils and 5,881 hectares belonging to the state. In total, there are 166 public forests in the province, which has 41 municipalities catalogued as forest land. These are municipalities with more than 50% of their land occupied by woodland and undisturbed natural areas and a population of less than 30,000. There are 361 such localities in Andalucía.

Causes of fires

As always, in the high-risk season, stubble burning, barbecues, etc. will be prohibited. The data collected by the Infoca Plan reveal 29% of the fires are intentional; 24% are due to negligence; 14% are accidental; and 4% are of natural causes. On the other hand, in one out of every four fires, the origin cannot be precisely determined.

This year's Infoca Plan includes medium risk periods from 1 May to 31 May and from 16 October to 31 October. On the other hand, low risk is from 1 January to 30 April and from 1 November to 31 December.

Evolution of fires over the last decade in Malaga

Between 2013 and 2022, Malaga recorded a total of 1,698 fires and outbreaks in the high risk seasons. Last year, 2023, ended with moderately positive data which reversed a clear upward trend. There were 74 forest fire actions and 112.05 hectares affected.

It is often said, on the other hand, that forest fires are extinguished thanks to work carried out in winter. The province has 2,604 kilometres of forest road network. In 2024, forestry workers have carried out prevention tasks on 7.66 million square metres with 130 manual and mechanised actions (creating ditches, firebreaks...).

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