By Lois Jones OUT of the 124 forest fires recorded in the Balearic Islands so far this year, 70 have been started intentionally. Environment minister Jaume Font confirmed yesterday that these figures are the highest for arson in the Balearics at any time over the past ten years. Reporting on a campaign launched earlier in the year aimed at stemming the tide of recurring forest fires, Font said that in spite of the fact that 2003 has been “a complicated year” owing to the high summer temperatures, the total area of ground damaged by fire in the Balearics has been 218.8 hectars, “considerably lower than” 789 hectars, the average annual devastation for the past decade. The minister pointed out that the average area destroyed by fire, on each occasion that one breaks out, has also fallen: 1.7 hectars in 2003 compared with the 5.5 average over the last ten years. The sharp drop can be largely attributed, he said, to the work of trained professionals and volunteers, whose response time and co-ordination improves with each “call to action”. Font's report concluded that the number of hectars destroyed has grown notably in a year-on-year comparison with 2002. Last year, there were 57.8 hectars razed to the ground in stark contrast to 218.8 devastated so far in 2003. This increase was due largely to the extensive fire at Puig de Randa at Llucmajor on Majorca. The minister drew attention to the fact that the “extreme temperatures” registered this summer, were, curiously, not the principal reasons behind the number of fires, but the activity of pyromaniacs. He pointed out that the number of fires started intentionally in 2003, has almost doubled the average of 36 incendiaries recorded as arson on an annual basis over the last ten years. As a result of this criminal activity, a special investigative committee was set up, comprising representation from several different organisations. According to the report, throughout the summer, the areas most victimisd by pyromaniacs have been Na Burgesa-Sant Agustí and the area around Puig Cugulutx, and the territory falling between the municipalities of Porreres, Montuiri and Sant Joan. Up until now, the most notable fire this year was registered on 7 August on the Puig de Randa at Llucmajor. It burned 127 hectars in the localities of Algaïda and Llucmajor; in “second place” came the fire at Calicant de Sant Llorens des Cardessar on the 28th of the same month, which devastated 25 hectars. The minister verified that none of the very large fires in 2003 were started deliberately.