Harsher penalties will be imposed on those who fail to comply with the rules. / david san segundo navas

Fines of up to a million euros for farmers in Spain who cause fires while harvesting illegally

The government has introduced new legislation which treats the use of machinery as a serious or very serious offence when there is a high risk of forest fire

ALFONSO TORICES Madrid

On 18 July, during the heatwave and with an extreme risk of fire, a reforestation contractor in Ateca, Zaragoza, ignored the ban on using machinery during the middle of the day. The digger he was using struck a stone, and a spark set fire to the mountain. As a result, 14,000 hectares of land were destroyed, five villages were besieged by flames, 2,000 people had to be evacuated and the Madrid-Barcelona motorway and AVE high speed railway line were closed for several hours.

While fire fighters tackled that blaze, another farmer ignored the ban on harvesting and ended up burning 3,500 hectares of land in Arlanza. Five villages were evacuated and Silos Abbey was on the verge of being destroyed. And within 24 hours, another farmer set fire to a field in Humanes (Guadalajara), 2,000 people had to leave their homes and the pilot of fire-fighting plane which crashed nearly lost his life.

Around a dozen incidents of this type have contributed to making this the worst summer this century, and the government has now introduced tougher legislation nationwide with harsher penalties for those who ignore the risks. The new decree obliges regional governments to immediately prohibit six activities in forest areas whenever the Aemet weather office says there is a high or extreme risk of fire.

Regional governments must impose bans

Although each region can prohibit other activities as well, they must at least ban fires being lit in open spaces, including recreation and camping areas. No stubble or remnants from pruning may be burned, fuel may not be left in the area and no pyrotechnic material can be transported or used.

They must also ban the use of any machinery or equipment capable of generating sparks or flames in forests or rural areas, or an area of 400 metres around them. The only exclusions are for authorised fire-fighting equipment.

Failure to comply will result in fines of between 1,000 and 100,000 euros for serious offences and up to one million euros for very serious offences.

Anyone responsible for starting a major fire can also now be sent to prison for a period of three to six years, or for between five and ten years if anyone’s life was put in danger due to the blaze.