Since Galician forests are still burning, as every summer, we felt the urge to recuperate this gem from the past, now enhanced and translated into English so that all of you can better understand the nature of this natural sociopathic disaster that is not only a local phenomenon.
THE LORD OF FIRE (July 2011)
Last week, another young hero lost his life while his aircraft was helping to suffocate any given fire in the Galician forests. In this part of the world, to solve human deeds with fire, has been a cultural tradition and nowadays it has almost put an end to our natural resources.
Almost 90% of the fires in the region, are provoked by the human hand. Every Summer Galicians can breathe the ashes from their villages and watch impotently how their forest and natural wildlife disappears, in continuous black armageddons, all along the territories.
This Summer alone we have experienced more than 10 big fires, only around our place, until one chilling saturday afternoon, after 1 hour contemplating 2 Canadairs, flying dangerously low, above our heads, I convinced Loren to grab my camera & take me to the Fire’s Ground Zero to feel & shoot the heat.
Loren, is the man behind the always fresh La Isla del Tesoro Blog, and in his real life, his job is to patrol our mountains, taking care of wildlife and also, to suffocate fires whenever detected. Of course, 40 minutes later we were standing the closest to hell I’ve ever been in my life.
I strongly recommend you to read the long and well planned interview we conceived, after that black August Saturday afternoon, to shed some light to the so long forgotten Galician problem.
El Solitario MC: Why do Galician forests burn?
La Isla Del Tesoro: In order to understand this problem it is necessary to know how land property is distributed in Galicia. 96% of property is in private hands, of which 63% is personal and 33% are local communal forests, the remaining 4% belongs to the State, Galician Autonomous Community and councils. It is important as well to know that the 63% that is in personal hands is divided in little plots of which 89% has an area less than 5 hectares. This makes our forests almost unproductive and its management really difficult.
In Galicia there is a big culture around fire. Fire is a tool, a weapon, something well rooted, and it is not seen as something bad. That, combined with disastrous agricultural and forest politics through the years by all the involved governments, either autonomous, state or European, and with a lack of awareness from the society (specially from rural population) about the consequences in the long term of forest fires, are in broad strokes the reasons for forest fires.
ESMC: Who cause forest fires in Galicia? Are there people from the very service who could be involved?
LIDT: I’ve been working in this since I was 18, and that question has been in my head for a long time. Nowadays experience tells me (and I think I’m not wrong) that there are no “mafias” who work in setting fire to our forests, that, as I said at the beginning of the interview, fire here is used to clean estates, to clear hunting areas, to generate grazing for cattle, to solve problems (almost always about boundaries) with some neighbour or collective. It is also caused by the burning of stubble that escapes control, to find estate boundaries that nobody remembers where they are, because the grandfather has passed away long time ago and nobody cared to know. There are also people who set fire because, because their heads are sick… To sum up, locals are who set fire and in every village, more or less, they know who and why they do it, and even if it is tough to recognize it, this is the prototype of the pyromaniac in Galicia.
About if there are people from the Service Against Forest Fires who set fire, I think that like in any collective there could be black ewes, in the end we are human beings and we are in this society and we live in little villages, but if any, they are really isolated cases which are very discussed because of morbid curiosity and sometimes in a non very reliable way. We, the people who work in this, are great professionals, we are really good at extinguishing forest fires and not because we’ve got a great education, neither the best resources (this has improved in the last years), neither we are the prototype of gym-fireman. We are people from the countryside, from the forest, we know perfectly the element in which we are, and unfortunately we have a lot of fires on our shoulders and that give us a lot of experience in our job and make us be good professionals.
ESMC: Why society nor mass media don’t talk about it?
LIDT: In Galicia summer smells like fire, like a storm smells when it is approaching, there are days that smells like smoke, smells like Galician summer. When you pick up the clothes from the line they are dirty with soot, and when you enter Galicia from another part in the Peninsula you know you are at home because of the columns of smoke that mark the territory. More than once I’ve asked myself what will think somebody who comes from outside Galicia when he sees that, when he passes by a highway and he finds pieces of forest burnt to ashes. Society here is very used to it, it is something common, it almost doesn’t attract attention that forest is burning close to your city or village, that light aircrafts and helicopters are passing over your head all day long. We are used to this scourge.
About mass media, it is not the first time I arrive home after a long working day and I see in the national news that there is a fire in Catalonia or somewhere else, 50 hectares, and the fire I come from and when I left, because I’d made the maximum working hours permitted, was 500 hectares and still burning, next day not even a comment is made neither in local or autonomous media. Maybe we should ask them why it is not news?
ESMC: What is the solution to avoid this environmental disaster?
LIDT: That politicians get really involved in it and let behind statistics, at the end it is the only thing they care about. That all agricultural and forest policies are checked and adapted to social reality in Galicia. And that they work with kids, and no so kids, on creating an environmental consciousness, a reserve of young people who see rural world as an alternative and not like something that has nothing to do with them. That we see forest as something that could be directly or indirectly very profitable in this society. If you don’t give value to something, you don’t take care of it. That models of forest and agricultural policies are made with neighbors and forest communities to show there are ways and alternatives to work and manage with resources, and once they are working, export them to other places.
“Education is the fundamental pillar of a healthy society”.
Lorenzo Zuazua Conde. August 2011.
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