STAFF REPORTER ALTHOUGH an Emergency Military Unit of some 1'500 personnel is being made available nationally to help tackle serious forest fires this summer, the Balearics is one of a few regions of Spain which will rely on its troops based in the region to provide initial immediate assistance.

Once authorisation for intervention has been given by the Ministry for Defence, the special unit operating from the mainland needs to be able to get to the scene of the blaze at any point in the country and to set up fire-fighting equipment within the space of four hours. The geographical location of the Balearic Islands and the Spanish cities of Melilla and Ceuta in North Africa means that the Emergency unit cannot keep to the four-hour time frame. To act as a stop gap whilst awaiting the arrival of the mainland force, regular military units in the Islands will be used for immediate fire-fighting operations.

A spokesman for the mainland force said yesterday that the 1'500 strong force will be split up into 30 separate divisions for fighting the fires. Whilst the Canary Islands will have its own Company spread over Gran Canaria and Tenerife, the main bases of the fire-fighting forces on the mainland will be in Madrid, Seville, Valencia and Leon.

The specialist unit expects to have one light helicopter at its disposal for aerial control and coordination, and another more substantial craft to be used for carrying water for extinction purposes as well as for ferrying personnel to and from the site of the blaze. The Central Government's Ministry of the Environment meanwhile, will continue to make its fire-fighting aircraft available to the Air Force for tackling forest blazes as well as new ones which have been ordered by the Ministry for Defence.

These craft will be in operation throughout the summer until the end of September on a rota basis. The maximum combined number of planes and helicopters available for any one operation will be twelve.