Wildfires Spread Across Portugal, Galicia And Asturias

´´Is this what the apocalypse feels like?´´

A thought shared by many on Monday 16th October. The day before, strong but hot winds had swept an unfamiliar humidity around the westerly parts of coastal Asturias, leaving an unnerving confusion in the air.

This was another uncomfortable part of the deadly fires sweeping across Portugal, Galicia and Asturias last week. Causes are still under investigation, with part of the huge damage accounted for by the winds from Hurricane Ophelia, according to Spanish meteorologists. However, now widely socially accepted is the theory that the fires were started by human intervention. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said that arson was almost certain; ´´It’s impossible that this could have happened in normal conditions´.´

At least 35 were killed by the fires and many more injured. The fires spread over a widely and densely forested region, susceptible to spreading due to the dryness in climate this year. Luckily, the rain is now helping the situation, as people prayed for rain to help the damage of the flames, water began to pour down on the region by Monday the 16th.

In the location, fires were devastating and took trees, wildlife, animals, plants and  houses too. Outside of the direct flame, skies were stained with a menacing yellow tinge, like what one might imagine in the end of the world. No visible sun, just a tarnished grey-yellow colour, as though the clouds had burned too.

Spanish authorities reported over 90 consecutive fires burning in the region of Galicia and Asturias, with local people and civil guards stepping in to act as temporary firefighters.

This issue has also called to light a lack of sufficient forestry management resources in Portugal, an issue which has been apparent before due to their said reliance on voluntary firefighters. Owners of forest can also abandon their lands which also leads to problems in cases such as these. Just two weeks ago 436 forest rangers were dismissed from temporary summer contracts in Galicia due to a supposition that the risk of fire across the Atlantic coast had decreased significantly. But this situation shows more of a need for this protection than ever.

Solutions to the situation are not easy. A criminal hand cannot easily be controlled. With no definite proof behind the starting of the fires, it is difficult to understand how they began and with what reason. Some scientists say that climate change is a factor. More than ever before, Portugal and parts of Spain across the Atlantic have been affected by low rainfall and hot weather. This causes grass and trees to dry out, left in a highly flammable state.

Another problem comes from human-introduced monocultures such as widespread Eucalyptus trees. They are planted far and wide because of their financial profit; they can be cut down at the bottom of the trunk and will grow back again, which makes them a great renewable source of wood, fire fuel or paper. However, their growth dominates the terrain in which they reside, sucking up the nutrients that other plants need. These sap-rich trees, whilst good for the paper businesses of Portugal and Northern Spain, are highly flammable.

Portugal has come under particular scrutiny for the lack of effective forest management strategy in place. At the moment there is no implemented fire protection plan from the government. Protection, surveillance, detection and response are the key tenets missing from this story. Emergency measures are the focus more than prevention of emergency.

This devastating loss is one that should be of course viewed with sympathy and solemnity, but it is also important to try to prevent another tragedy like this. Prevention and efficient forestry management must be put in place immediately.

Climate change needs to be addressed and responded to by the world in unison to help realign the earth’s movements with nature, to avoid freak weather incidents such as these. If the fires were started by human hands, we must seek to question the intentions behind such actions in order to find and solve the root of the problem.