By Humphrey Carter

THE biggest threat the Balearics faces over the coming months is from forest fires and this year over 400 people are involved in fire prevention and extinction.

Yesterday, the Balearic Minister for the Environment, Miguel Angel Grimalt, met forest fire fighting crews at Son Bonet airfield where the aerial units are based and on full alert 24-hours a day and presented them with the new equipment.

This year, the Balearics is being monitored by forest fire spotters mounted in 26 permanent watch towers who can call in assistance from ten special mobile units and the Son Bonet-based air brigade.

This year, a total of nine airborne fire fighting planes and helicopters and two transport choppers to quickly deploy either material or fire fighters quickly to inaccessible areas are involved in the operation.

The Environment Ministry has this year double the budget for fire prevention and extinction and nearly ten million euros is being spent on protecting the Balearics from bush fires this summer.

The fire prevention measures have proved extremely successful over recent years and have significantly reduced the number of forest fires.
During the first six months of this year, for example, 21 hectares have been destroyed by forest fires compared to an average of 100 hectares for the same period between 1998 and 2007.

However, this year, spotters will be using the very latest technology to increase their efficiency.
A new set of rules of engagement have also been drawn up in the event of a serious forest fire near or in a residential area.
For the moment, the forest fire risks are relatively low because of last month's heavy rains.
The forest and scrub are still damp but, with the arrival of this week's heat wave, the ground is going to dry out fast and the Environment Minister told all the personnel present yesterday that all units must now be on action stations as the risks are rising fast.

The general public is also being urged to co-operate by obeying the laws restricting camp fires until the ban is lifted and to report anything suspicious.