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Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Any body who lives in Spain knows that with the heat of summer comes the forest fires. However I was stunned to learn that in an average year the country has 20,000 fires which destroy some 140,000 hectares of pasture, scrub or woodland. Even more startling is the discovery that only one in a 1,000 fires results in a court case.

Galicia, known as a wet and green area, accounts for half of the fires. It also heads the list of court convictions for both offences and criminal cases. It is followed in the summer fire league by Castilla and León, we here in Andalucía, Cataluña and Valencia. Navarra, La Rioja, País Vasco and Madrid are the autonomous regions with the least number of sentences.

All this information has been collated by Greenpeace in its recent report “Incendios Forestales, ¿el fin de la impunidad?” It says that according to data issued by the State Prosecutor there were 82 criminal convictions for starting fires in 2007 with 19 cases dismissed. Greenpeace España has studied the records of the lower courts and over the same period found 257 convictions related to fires.

Greenpeace says that in recent years the environmental prosecutors have made important strides in enforcing the law and this in turn has led to an increase in the number of cases being brought to court with convictions being handed down.

None-the-less the current statistics are:
One of every thousand people responsible for forest fires are brought to court, that’s 0.1 per cent.
Only 5.49 per cent of the surface burnt in the last ten years has been met with a conviction.
The courts have only handled 3.5 per cent of the cases involving major forest fires involving areas of over 500 hectares produced in Spain over the period 1996-2005.
In 2007 there were 11 major fires but only four people faced court action.

Greenpeace is calling for greater involvement of the public in identifying and bringing to justice those involved in starting fires. In addition it wants the prosecutors to have stronger powers and resources to investigate these cases. It wants the same prosecutors to be more involved in fire prevention with the regional authorities and for the statistics for these cases to be properly compiled and made available to the public.

If you have been in close proximity to a summer fire you will know just how frightening they are. The fact that the majority are caused by human hand, accidentally or by pyromaniacs, is a problem that needs to be urgently tackled.

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