“A fire in Monfragüe would end life within the National Park in just over four hours.” The resounding SOS was launched in writing on June 10 by the Association of Friends of said nature reserve. Four weeks later, on Thursday, a fire broke out near Casas de Miravete (Cáceres) that penetrated without opposition to the heart of this bird sanctuary, where thousands of tourists come every year to enjoy the flight of black storks, Egyptian vultures, vultures or the exclusive imperial eagle.
At the end of this Friday the fire was still out of control and with very adverse weather conditions, with changing gusts of wind. It had burned more than 1,000 calcined hectares and affected several protected species, including several black vulture nests. As a precaution, the residents of Casas de Miravete were evicted due to the risk that the flames would enter the town.
Could the flames have been prevented from entering Monfragüe? Francisco Castañares, former general director of the Environment Agency of the Junta de Extremadura, which chairs that association, denounced a month ago that the park management had not carried out cleaning work since 2019. He didn’t do it alone. The cry for help was also given by other experts and mayors. The City Council of Serradilla, the only municipality (1,500 inhabitants) with a public forest in the area: “We are powerless because we cannot do anything, nor carry out any type of cleaning or fire prevention because we do not have powers as it is a mountain that is within a national park where a city council has no powers”, claimed Francisco Sánchez, mayor of the local PSOE. In this sense, he warned that “a fire in that area would be very difficult to control and would spread very quickly.”
The complaints revolved around the “regrettable” conditions in which Monfragüe was located before the fire, also cataloged as a Biosphere Reserve (year 2003), and which favored the spread “of forest fuel inside the national park” . Castañares recalled that they had been “abandoned and neglected for three years by the Junta de Extremadura (Ministry of Ecological Transition), which puts our most precious natural jewel in maximum danger.” And it gave the following data: “The 1,500 hectares of the public utility forest, belonging to Serradilla, included within the national park, are a real powder keg ready to burn. The rest of the park, just over 15,000 hectares, even with another type of vegetation, is in similar conditions”.
Complaints were also made against the director of the park, Carmen Martín, who took office in March of this year, replacing Alfredo Anega. Both would not have ordered the carrying out of preventive works: “They neither carry them out, nor do they allow others to carry them out,” highlights Castañares, who described that the firewalls “were not clean either.” In turn, he emphasized an added risk: the park is full of power lines, a real danger although they have been prohibited by law since December 2020.
“Only a few years ago, on July 12, 2017, an Iberdrola power line caused a fire in one of its supports due to detachment of the wiring. They were not prohibited then. Today they are,” he says. For the also president of the association of forestry companies, the conclusion is that Monfragüe had been left exclusively in the hands of fate, “naked and alone, waiting…”. He underlines the nude because, in recent days, he denounces that “they left the park without its helicopter, which is there all year round due to the importance of the place, without all its checkpoints, without its forest firefighters, without its fire trucks and without its firefighting vehicles, precisely on the day when there was the greatest risk of fire and, therefore, on the most important day was for everyone to be there, deployed and on high alert”.
For the seven municipalities that make up the National Park, there was only one pickup vehicle with five forest firefighters, located in Villarreal de San Carlos, almost an hour’s drive from the place of the fire, he stresses. “When the fire arrived, it was already unstoppable”, because the flames began with little intensity and, “if the helicopter had been in its place and the checkpoints in theirs, they would have put it out in 10 minutes, but there were no means”.
Now, according to the Board, 220 troops and eight aerial means are working to prevent its spread, with the participation of Infoex itself, the Emergency Military Unit (UME) and the urban firefighters of the provincial consortiums of Cáceres and Badajoz.
Meanwhile, the Almaraz nuclear power plant has notified the Nuclear Safety Council of the declaration of the Casas de Miravete fire, which is less than five kilometers from the facility. At the moment, according to the plant, the two units of the plant continue to operate normally at 100% power, but “continuous monitoring is being carried out by fire protection personnel in the areas of the plant close to the fire.” , which, they say, “does not imply any damage or risk to the plant”.
The flames in the Las Hurdes area gave a little respite yesterday afternoon and the fire passed “relatively calmly”, according to the general director of Emergencies, Nieves Villar, who pointed out that the real danger is in the Salamanca area. . The Extremaduran extinction team has dedicated itself to quelling reproductions and continuing to clean the border area with Castilla y León.
In Las Hurdes, and within the Extremadura Forest Firefighters team, Cipri, 60, a native of Alcuéscar (Cáceres), is working almost without breathing, a true veteran in this type of situation and who at his age feels fully active and with the strength to continue risking his physique on the ground in the extinction operation that works in the area to stop the flames, which can become a real trap. “He’s the best, we’ve all learned from him,” his teammates describe him. Yesterday, in a short break, they paid tribute to him by uploading his image to social networks: “His wrinkles and gray hair must hide many stories, good and bad, but they teach that age is just a number,” described José Gago, a journalist from Extremadura. . Cipri is the hero, with a face, of the Las Hurdes fire, although at the moment he does not want a leading role and is still busy with his hard work. Until the flames go out.
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