Here’s how depopulation affects wildfires

Benigno González clearly remembers the first flames he saw appearing on the other side of the mountains. “I called the territorial delegate and told him that if they didn’t send more media, nobody would stop this anymore“, says the mayor of Navalacruz.

The fire last year it arrived just six kilometers from this city of Avila: it burned uncontrollably for 12 days and more than 22,000 hectares have been grazed by the flames. Of these 22,000 hectares burned, 2,700 belonged to the wooded area. “Nobody thought that the fire which came to be generated would occur”, testifies the first mayor.

But what worries municipalities like Navalacruz the most is not so much what has already burned, but what can burn. Therefore, the clearing they are absolutely necessary to prevent weeds from turning into plant fuel.

In this sense, Diana Colomina, coordinator of Forests of WWF Spain, explains that “forest fires are the symptom of a much more serious disease, which is abandonment of the rural environment“.

Navalacruz lost three out of four inhabitants 70 years ago due to the rural exodus. With a shrinking and older population, fewer and fewer people support the campaign. The result, Colomina points out, “are forests of a single species, regular, which have excessive densities and which ultimately they are a powder keg“.

In Spain, specifically the six provinces that have lost the most population over the last half-century coincide with those where more hectares have been burned for fires. “There are fires that can be extinguished 20 years before they occur,” explains the WWF representative, who aims to avoid them by “investment in rural development, in social prevention in areas where there are more fires” and “environmental education”.

In the short term, the only thing Benigno asks for is more resources to take care of his pitch. The mayor of Navalacruz quotes a popular Spanish saying: “When you see your neighbor’s beard flaking, soak yours.” “Here the same thing can happen at any time“, he warns. “The problem is where to find the money to fix this,” he adds.

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