By Humphrey Carter
Photos: P. Bota
THE Balearic environment ministry is poised to launch its annual forest fire fighting campaign with a budget of nearly seven million euros to protect the Balearics over the next five months.

This year, five helicopters, four airplanes and 350 personnel will be involved in the prevention and extinction of forest fires which destroyed a total of 124 hectares in the region last year.

Yesterday, the Balearic Minister for the Environment, Jaume Font, met some of the key members of his fire fighting team and pilots of one of the helicopters at Palma's Son Bonet airfield. This year, the emphasis is going to be on prevention more than ever with the creation of a Balearic-wide network of 26 watch towers manned by teams of spotters, the department will also have ten mobile units: six in Majorca and two each in Minorca and Ibiza.

Font said that these mobile units are especially equipped to respond rapidly to a fire and immediately tackle forest fires if first at the scene.
These spotters and rapid response units will have aerial support from a 337 Cessna which is equipped to not only spot a fire and guide fire fighters to the heart of the fire, but also monitor and provide “real time” images of incidents. Principally, the forest fire campaign will be launched on June 1 and run until September 30. But its duration will depend very much on how active the forest season turns out to be and how dry and hot the summer is.

Font said that last year, the number of forest fires in the Balearics was below the national average and he paid special tribute to those involved in the prevention campaign for their success.

Minorca suffered the worst where 135 hectares were destroyed by fire.
27 hectares were burnt in Majorca and 2.42 in Ibiza.
But, prevention only works to a certain extent because, according to Font, 33 percent were intentional, while negligence or accidents were the cause of 54 percent of last year's fires.

However, Font said that over the past four years, the area of land devastated by forest fires has been reduced by 70 percent. Soon, the annual bans on b-b-q's and camp fires will be enforced as well as the strict guidelines for hikers.

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