TWO bush fires destroyed 5.000 square metres of agricultural land in the Tramuntana mountain range over the weekend and yesterday the Balearic Minister for the Environment said that anti-forest fire measures will be stepped up again this year. Unveiling the 2003 forest fire campaign, Margalida Rosselló, said that the key novelty this year is that the forestry protection unit's motorbikes are to be replaced by new 4x4 pick-up jeeps fitted with 400 litre water tanks for immediate response to bush fires. This year's campaign will also be boosted with back-up from a new twin-prop fire-plane based at Son Bonnet airstrip.
Ironically, the unusually wet and windy past few winters have heightened the risk of forest fires because of all the fallen trees and this year the 4.629.592 euro campaign budget is nearly two per cent greater than last year. Last year, the anti-forest fire campaign proved very successful, the Minister said yesterday, primarily because of greater human resources and equipment. In 1999, the region was hit by 152 forest fires, last year that figure nearly halved to 73 and 57 hectares of woodland was destroyed, much less than the average 1.009 hectares hit between 1992 and 2001. Yesterday the Minister met with fire and forestry chiefs from Palma and Calvia city councils as well as 112 emergency service bosses, airport directors and representatives from the various fire brigades and Ibanat natural protection department. The first steps of this year's counter forest fire campaign will be taken today and remain in place until at least the end of September. The Minister said that the secret of the new campaigns is to have them in operation for most of the year, not just the three or four key summer months. The new twin-prop plane will be based at Son Bonnet for six months, which will release one of the Dromadair fire fighting planes to Ibiza and each island will this year be co-operating much closer together. Late on Sunday night the first of two forest fires was spotted near Es Marroig, between Soller and Fornalutx. The blaze destroyed 5.000 square metres of agricultural land, mainly olive groves. The second fire was reported early yesterday morning near Valldemossa, again on agricultural land.
The alarm was raised at 6am and it took fire fighters three-and-a-half hours to bring the fire under control.
The extent of the damage to the agricultural land along the road from Valldemossa to Deya was unknown and two separate investigations were under way yesterday afternoon to establish the cause of the fires.


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