Forest fires are an annual hazard in a climate like Tenerife’s and every Spring we wonder whether this will be a light year with just a couple of fires in one month (as in 2016) or one where large swathes of Tenerife are burnt to a cinder (as in 2007 and 2012). Major fires here are designated level 1, 2 or 3 depending on who is controlling and coordinating fire-fighting efforts: a level 1 means it is under the jurisdiction of municipal or insular control, while a level 2 is much more serious and involves coordination responsibilities being passed to the Canarian Government; a level 3 is more serious again, perhaps involving simultaneous fires in more than one island, and so control is passed to the Spanish Government (there is a full and detailed explanation from the Canarian Government HERE).
Forest fire risk is at its greatest when the conditions known as the three 30s are in place: sustained winds (not gusts) of over 30 km/h, humidity below 30%, and temperatures over 30º. These all tend to be in place during summer calimas, but that isn’t the only time they will apply. Once the three 30s are in place, we can expect the authorities to issue a Forest Fire Alert, and impose bans on mountain area recreation areas, transit through forest areas and perhaps the National and Rural Park areas, bans on machinery, fireworks, and agri-rubble burning in the hills, etc. The Dirección General de Protección Civil y Emergencias has issued the following advice and information about forest fires, how to prevent them, and how to stay safe if caught up in them.
A Shared Responsibility
Forest fires are one of the natural phenomena that can cause hazardous situations for people. They also constitute a very serious environmental problem.
Responsible behaviour, like not lighting fires in the countryside where there is a fire risk, is the best measure to prevent forest fires
Among the preventive measures that can be taken, we should remember that some of them, even if they seem familiar, often tend to be forgotten, like taking care to:
If you are travelling, hiking or camping:
Put out matches and cigarettes and do not throw them out car windows.
Do not leave bottles, glass or litter in the countryside that could cause or contribute to fire.
Do not light bonfires for any use (cooking, heating, etc. ). Note that, in general, the use of fire is prohibited in any forest area. Its use is authorised only in very specific areas and seasons (recreation areas equipped specifically for this purpose and outside of times of drought or hazard). Even in approved areas, be especially careful to put fire out, making sure there are no remaining embers that could reignite and start a fire.
Do not leave bonfires or lamps burning when you leave the camp.
If you see a forest fire or smoke plume in the forest, it is important to report it as quickly as possible to one of the nearest emergency services: 112 telephone number, Forest Services, Fire Fighters, Police, Civil Guard or Civil Protection.
If you are going to burn cuttings or dry vegetation:
Request the necessary authorisation and follow exactly the conditions outlined in the permit. Contact the Forestry Service or Natural Environment agency for your Autonomous Region, which will tell you how to obtain this authorisation.
Do not do so on days with strong winds or during periods of zero rainfall.
Monitor the burn and do not leave until you are sure that it is completely out.
If you live in a country house or in a residential development:
Chimneys of houses must have spark arrestors (note that this measure does not appear in the Spanish version).
Do not burn leaves or other vegetation without permission, and always avoid windy days and periods of fire hazard.
Do not throw away the ashes until you are sure they are out and cold.
Remember that power lines must be run through firebreaks that are 3 m wide, clear of vegetation and without any vegetation coming near the wires. Request their clean up from the utility company or report any hazardous situations that you see.
Prevent temporary, uncontrolled garbage dumps.
In the event of weather conditions conducive to the spread of fire, refrain from lighting fires in the area for any purpose.
Measures of self-protection
Knowing the environment and the risks that may be encountered helps you to take measures to prevent them from occurring.
That is why in periods of fire hazard, when venturing into the forest, it is necessary to know the terrain, roads and alternate routes and to try to always walk in high-visibility areas.
If you are in the vicinity of a fire
Try to stay away from the lateral areas of the fire that are bare of vegetation.
Remember that a change in wind direction can cause a fire to surround you. Therefore, always move in the opposite direction to the wind.
Try not to head towards canyons or hollows and not attempt to escape up a hill that the fire is climbing.
If you intend to collaborate in fire fighting
Do not work in isolation or on your own.
Contact the professionals responsible for the extinction (fire fighters, forest rangers, etc.) who will assign you the most appropriate tasks for you, and always follow their instructions.
Do not throw water on power lines.
When a plane is going to dump water, you must leave the targeted area, thus avoiding the falling water.
Take extreme caution. Your life is worth a great deal.
If you live in a house in the country or in a residential development
Keep access roads to the house, including ditches, clear of grass and weeds.
Prevent the accumulation of dry vegetation or cuttings that help fire to spread in gardens or plots , and carry out the corresponding clean-up tasks.
Keep the roof clear of combustible materials (leaves, branches, etc.) and prevent branches from overhanging buildings or coming within 3 metres of a chimney. Ideally, around each building there should be a 10-metre-wide margin containing no flammable vegetation.
Roofs and façades of houses should be of fire-resistant material. Wooden façades must have fire-retardant treatment.
Construction of a safety perimeter around the residential development: the separation of residential developments from the forest is advisable by means of a 25-meter-wide zone that is clear of vegetation and without buildings. This zone can house a perimeter road or path. It is also advisable to take actions in the wooded area adjacent to the safety zone, clearing land and pruning trees up to 3 m in height, as a minimum, and with working widths of 25 m.
Request a “Forest Fire Defence Plan” for your Residential Development from your “Residents or Owners Association”.
Prevention measures help reduce the damage that can result from disasters.
Learn some self-protection guidelines for emergencies; they will help you make decisions that can benefit both your safety and that of others.