Heat Wave Increases Risk of Forest Fires on Mallorca #
Prevention is more important than ever.
With 300 days of sunshine every year, there is always a risk of forest fires on Mallorca. However, as an effect of the climate change we are faced with an increasing number of heat waves with temperatures above 40°C (104° F). In combination with the strong winds we have seen in recent weeks, meteorologists warn the hazards are greater than ever.
There might be 350 fire fighters stationed on the Balearics, and two new fire engines recently taken into service, but one thing is for sure: We do not want to see a fire like the one raging in the Andratx area in 2013 ever again!
No Fire Allowed in and Around Forest #
Unlike in many Northern European countries, it is still usual to burn garden prunings on Mallorca. However, in the high-risk season between May 1st and October 15th, no fires are allowed in forests and in a 500-metre radius around them.. This also applies to the so-called áreas recrativas – recreation areas designated for family picnics which are often provided with barbecue facilities. Even outside this period and in lower-risk areas, it is important to be mindful at all times:
- To light a fire on a forest property – e.g. to burn prunings - you need a special license issued by the Balearic Environmental Bureau all year round, also during the colder months.
- To light a fire within the 500-metre radius around forests, you need a license in summer. Please, note that this applies to wax torches, candles and fireworks, too. So make sure to apply for one if you plan a wedding or barbecue party. During the winter, no autorización is required provided you observe all safety rules.
- What many don't know – between May 1st and October 15th, no fires are allowed on the beaches as well. There is only one exception: The traditional celebrations of the Nit de San Juan – The Night of Fire - on June 23rd
To download the application form for the license, click here>>
Affordable Mallorca Tip for gardeners: Invest in a good, heavy-duty shredder and transform those piles of valuable plant material gathered from your land into mulch. You can put that to good use of on your flower beds or in your vegetable patch. If that seems too much of an effort, take your prunings down to your nearest Punto verde. They take it free of charge.
Prevention is All #
Watchfulness is of utmost importance at all times. Even if you are in an area or season where you are allowed to light a fire, make sure to observe the following rules:
- No matter whether or not it's officially allowed to light a fire in your area and the season you are in - don't do it on windy days.
- If to light a fire is allowed, choose your place carefully. Make sure no grass, weeds or trees grow within a radius of five metres. Raking the ground is not enough: dry roots form an underground web. Flames can run along them like on a match cord. I've seen it happen!
- Buy a fire extinguisher and have it handy. Or at least have a few buckets of water prepared.
- Be extra careful when doing forestry work. Watch out for sparks coming off chain saws and/or other machinery.
- When having a barbecue (where and when it's legal), make sure to keep away from anything that can catch fire – overhanging branches, window shutters, sunroofs, sunsails, curtains, etc.
- Even if you think they have died out completely, before throwing out the embers of your barbecue, quench them with a bucket of water.
- Many forest fires were started by a single cigarette butt or match carelessly dropped or thrown out of a car window. Our recommendation: Stop smoking all together. It's better for your health anyway. And if you can't, get yourself a pocket ashtray. And use it! (Or use the one in your car even if you find the smell offensive.)
- On your own property or when walking in a forest, please pick up any glass shards you see. They might bundle sunrays like a magnifying glass and produce a beam hot enough to start a fire.
- For the same reason, make sure you clear away your spectacles when you don't need them.
Keep Your Finca Safe #
There are a few things you can do to prevent a fire from spreading, especially when building a new house and/or designing a garden.
- Plant trees and bushes wide enough apart so the flames cannot "jump the bridge". If you live in a high-hazard area, keep a 30-metre wide tree-free safety strip around your house and a 10-metre wide one along your driveway for easy fire engine access.
- Keep your garden cleaned, pruned and watered. In this way it serves as a natural firebreak.
- Before the start of the fire season, trim your land down and keep forested areas of your land free from dried brush.
- Keep all inflammables (gasoil tanks, petrol cans, butane gas bottles) well away from your house.
- Don't use inflammable materials for fencing.
- Swimming pools and water taps outside the house are important sources of water in case of fire. Make sure they are accessible. Fire engines need a clear path of at least 2.5 metres. Your pool needs to be at a certain distance from the house for a helicopters to take water from it safely. Good to know if you plan to build one.
In Case of Fire #
- Stay calm.
- Get people out of danger first.
- Call 112. Give location of fire and describe its extent.
- Then try to extinguish the fire, but make sure not to put yourself in danger.
See below a video recalling the island's worst forest fire in nearly 15 years in 2013 that destroyed over 2000 hectares of forest area among a number of finca and wildlife. This fire was started by a local burning waste cardboard in his back yard. It took over 1000 fire fighters 20+ helicopters and 14 airplanes the best part of a week to extinguish it.
Responsibilities and Fines #
The responsibility always lies with the person who started the fire. If no forest is affected, the fines are between 100€ and 1,000€. If trees were damaged, the amount can quickly go up from 1,000€ to 100,000€. If a fire was started when or where it's not legal, this is considered a criminal offence and the person who caused it might not get away with paying a fine, but end up in prison.
Information by the Balearic Department of Environment and Forestry
Conversation with an Andratx fire fighter
Video of Andratx fire by Vincent H
By Ulla Rahn-Huber
22 July, 2019