STAFF REPORTER THE most worrying time has now started for those responsible for keeping a watch out for forest fires in the Balearic Islands. In spite of the fact that in recent times, less surface area in the Islands has caught fire during the summer season, the regional Forestry Management Service said yesterday that 80 percent of the Balearics currently falls into a high-risk category, that is 170'652 hectares of the 223'600 which go to make up the wooded territory of the Islands.

Luis Berbiela is head of the Forestry Management Service and he believes firmly that winning the fight against woodland blazes has to include public awareness of the dangers. “No less than 95 percent of outbreaks are caused by the actions of men,” he claimed.

Last year, 44 hectares of territory was burned but the annual average over the past 10 years has been 244. Although the figure is in itself encouraging, there is a downside to the reports, said Berbiela, and that is that the actual number of fire outbreaks is on the increase. He explained that with high levels of gas and electricity usage, the “nature” of blazes has changed, particularly with much less wood now being taken out of the woods and forested areas. “This type of territory is expanding, and trees which are not exploited for their timber are allowed to retain their luxuriant leaf growth. In 50 years, the forested areas of the Islands have grown by a further 80'000 hectares, Berbiela said. “Now the focus is more on the high risk of fire at this time of year and having measures in place whereby we can get to the outbreaks quickly to stop extensive damage,” he added. Above all, he is anxious to avoid a catastrophe like the one that befell The Canary Islands in 2007 when a forest fire destroyed an area the size of the Tramuntana mountain range on Majorca. The Spanish government has a squad of 1'500 specially trained fire fighters who can reach any blaze on the mainland within the space of four hours. The Balearics, meanwhile, because of its geographical position in the Mediterranean has to depend on its own military resources until the mainland support personnel arrive with aircraft designed to spray water over large areas of burning forest.